It took until the fourth test of the preseason for the Wild to finally ice a lineup that looked even close to what the team could roll out in the regular season, and that appeared to be just the spark the team needed to corral its first victory — and best showing to date — of the exhibition schedule.
Winger Charlie Coyle scored a hat trick and goalie Alex Stalock pocketed a 16-save shutout to lead the Wild to a 7-0 rout of the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
"It builds confidence for everyone when you win games like that," Coyle said.
His effort was particularly impressive; not only does it suggest Coyle's developing chemistry with linemates Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway, but he also secured all three goals off wind-ups — an encouraging sign for someone long told to put the puck on net more.
"Just gotta keep shooting," Coyle said.
After winger Jason Zucker pounced on a loose puck near the post 8 minutes, 32 seconds into the first and winger Matt Read one-timed a slick feed from defenseman Jared Spurgeon at 3:18 of the second, Coyle tallied his first when he cut into the slot and slung a shot by goalie Philipp Grubauer 6:59 later.
Later in the period, he finished off a give-and-go with Eriksson Ek at 16:12 and only 2:15 into the third, he buried a Jonas Brodin feed for the hat trick — this after captain Mikko Koivu made it 5-0 just 28 seconds into the period.
Winger Zach Parise added a redirect on the power play at 13:09.
Grubauer totaled 26 saves.
Brodin was a game-high plus-5. He, Spurgeon, Eriksson Ek and Matt Dumba each had two assists.
"Obviously, they didn't bring their big guys tonight," Stalock said. " … [But] I think it was good for our group to get out there and get some work in."
Summer of healing
The Wild had been in offseason mode for two months, with the calendar on the verge of July, when Spurgeon finally felt back to normal.
He returned to action only four weeks after suffering a partial tear of his right hamstring, and once the Jets eliminated the Wild in five games, Spurgeon embarked on eight weeks' worth of treatment and physical therapy to repair the muscle.
And with that recovery now in the rear-view mirror, Spurgeon is eager to play again.
"It was tough," he said. "But that's what you do."
Spurgeon went down awkwardly in a corner March 13 vs. the Avalanche, his legs splitting apart as he fell into the boards — this after a nine-game hiatus earlier in the season because of a groin strain.
But once the playoffs started, Spurgeon was in the lineup and logged at least 20 minutes in all five games.
"I just didn't feel strong," said Spurgeon, who focused on strengthening his hamstring, improving its flexibility and breaking down the scar tissue that had built up in the offseason. "It felt like you're skating on one leg and then after that, you start compensating with other muscles and then that starts to get sore. It wasn't fun, but the trainers did a good job getting me being able to get out there and at least play and try and do the best of my abilities."
Despite this, Spurgeon was still a poised presence on the Wild's young blue line that was missing No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter.
If Suter hadn't been out with a severe right ankle injury and instead been able to suit up for the playoffs, coach Bruce Boudreau believes Spurgeon probably wouldn't have played.
"We had him 60 percent, but he's such a courageous young man," Boudreau said. "He's always going to do what it takes to try and play."
Before hosting the Avalanche, the Wild issued another round of cuts — trimming its roster by 17 to sit at 35.
The team assigned goaltenders Kaapo Kahkonen and C.J. Motte, defensemen Louie Belpedio, Gustav Bouramman, Eric Martinsson and Brennan Menell and forwards Colton Beck, Gerry Fitzgerald, Pavel Jenys, Chase Lang, Gerald Mayhew, Dante Salituro, Mason Shaw and Dmitry Sokolov to Iowa of the American Hockey League.
Forwards Landon Ferraro and Cal O'Reilly and defenseman Hunter Warner were placed on waivers and will be assigned to Iowa on Sunday if they clear.
Forward Alexander Khovanov and defenseman Josh Thrower are still listed on the roster. Thrower has an upper-body injury, and Khovanov was banged up. The team wanted to make sure he was at full strength before sending him to his junior team (Moncton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).