Sunday's three stars: A Wild franchise first for Backstrom

No. 1 star: Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

There really wasn't much ugly and obnoxious about Minnesota's 2-0 win in Denver on Sunday. First-hand accounts had the Wild directing 66 shots toward Avs goalie Peter Budaj (37 on target) and exposing Backstrom to 33 on the other end. Minnesota's goalie was perfect on the night in recording his fourth shutout of the season, the 13th of his career. Incredibly it was the Wild's first shutout of Colorado in franchise history, a span covering 48 regular-season and 13 postseason meetings. Backstrom is now 9-2 lifetime vs. the Avs.

No. 2 star: Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks

Playing without Teemu Selanne (13 power-play goals) and the suspended Corey Perry (13 power-play points), the Ducks could be forgiven for short-circuiting on special teams. Not so Sunday (or at all, for that matter). Ryan assisted on Chris Pronger's second-period power-play goal and scored a man-advantage tally of his own in the third period as the Ducks blanked the Coyotes 2-0. The rookie has been a big reason why Anaheim's power-play has motored ahead since Selanne's injury. The Ducks are 9-for-26 since that freak skate mishap Dec. 19.

No. 3 star: Owen Nolan, Minnesota Wild

The 36-year-old insists he's too long in the tooth to concern himself with grudges, but he sure has been pinning his ears back against former employers of late. Sunday's victim was Colorado, the franchise that traded him to San Jose in the 1995-96 season. Nolan scored twice, once on the power play, and had a game-high seven shots, a personal best this season. Including his goal against the Sharks on New Year's Eve, Nolan now has four goals (half his season total) against teams he's played for. Phoenix (Jan. 13), this is your warning.

Honorable mention: Martin St. Louis scored two goals and Mike Smith made 27 saves as Tampa Bay crawled out of the Southeast Division basement by beating Atlanta for the first time in seven meetings. … Brian Rolston's winner helped New Jersey improve to 5-1 in overtime games. … Andrew Ladd's goal and assist helped pick up the slack for the Patrick Kane-less Blackhawks in a 5-2 win over Calgary. … Jonas Hiller made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season. … Jason LaBarbera's catching glove provided the save of the night (below) and the Canucks' new addition was solid in his first start in Vancouver despite coming up short in a lengthy shootout.

Dishonorable mention: Montreal (0-for-5 Sunday) has failed to convert its last 15 power-play opportunities and is one for its last 22 over a five-game span. … Atlanta coach John Anderson called the Thrashers' effort "a joke" and measured his team's "give-a-crap level" at right around zero.


Images via Associated Press 

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