There was no epic collapse.
The parade to the penalty box was much shorter.
And admission to the front of the net was limited.
All the issues the Wild had earlier this week amid an eye-opening drubbing by the Jets on Monday in Winnipeg rarely surfaced Thursday, and the team was rewarded for the improvement — piecing together a 4-2 victory over the upstart Vegas Golden Knights in front of 19,084 at Xcel Energy Center in the Wild’s first meeting with the NHL’s newest team.
“Being smart through the middle of the ice, defending hard, being hard to play against, really doing our best to make the right decisions — we know what’s going to make us successful,” Wild center Eric Staal said. “We gotta make sure we bring that and find that every game.”
Staal served up the deciding goal, breaking a 2-2 tie with 7 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the third period — his first game-winner of the season and team-leading 22nd point — before also adding an insurance marker into an empty net with six seconds left to cap off the type of bounce-back effort the Wild needed to recalibrate.
A 7-2 wake-up call to the Jets not only put a magnifying glass on the inconsistency that has marred much of the Wild’s season, but it also highlighted poor play through the neutral zone and defensive third that was leaving the Wild vulnerable when the Jets had the puck — which was quite a bit.
The vibe against the Golden Knights was much more even; a hearty practice Wednesday probably helped spark the progress, as the team focused on those areas while also revisiting its backchecking strategy.
“It sometimes can get away from you, the style you need to play and what makes our group successful,” Staal said. “So it was a good reset.”
After a scoreless first period, the two teams continued to trade chances in the second.
Each team had an opportunity on the power play, but each was stymied by the other. The Wild finished 0-for-2, while the Golden Knights were 0-for-3.
Vegas came close twice to opening the scoring, as winger James Neal rang a shot off the post before center Stefan Matteau did the same.
But it was the Wild that struck first; with 2:59 remaining in the second, winger Mikael Granlund slung a one-timer by Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban.
The lead, however, was short-lived.
Only 2:42 into the third, the Golden Knights tied it when a blistering one-timer from defenseman Brayden McNabb eluded goalie Devan Dubnyk’s glove.
Less than two minutes later, Vegas moved ahead 2-1 on a slick wrist shot from center Jonathan Marchessault. But the Wild didn’t shrink under the pressure, evening it 48 seconds after Marchessault’s goal on a shot by defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Later in the period, Staal reinstated the Wild’s lead for good.
Defenseman Matt Dumba, filling out the top pairing next to Ryan Suter, had a shot carom off Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland and bounce in front of the net. Staal pounced on it and deposited the puck behind Subban, who ended up with 28 saves.
“We always talk about getting guys to the net and getting pucks there,” Dubnyk said, “and we were doing that all night.”
Dubnyk, who was making his first appearance since last Saturday, was airtight the rest of the way, posting 29 saves. And the Wild converted its fourth victory in its past five games on home ice (4-0-1).
“I think when teams get smoked pretty good, their character shows through,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Our three veteran defensemen I thought played a great game. And we got the two goals in the third from a veteran center that’s been a captain, so these guys know what it’s like to get beat bad. But they know what it’s like to come back.”