As he battled through a nine-game goal drought, Wild center Eric Staal tossed 20 shots on net.
But not until a puck deflected off his shin pad did he finally snap out of his slump, an important finish en route to a 3-2 shootout win for the Wild over the Kings Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
“That’s not the first time that’s happened to me over my career,” Staal said of the fortuitous bounce.
Although Staal had been held goalless since a Dec.27 tally in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, he’d had plenty of chances to capitalize.
He was frustrated by the lack of execution, opening up about the disappointment after the Wild was blanked 4-0 by the Bruins last Tuesday. But Staal’s work ethic didn’t seem to wane.
And eventually, he was rewarded for it – when a shot from defenseman Ryan Suter caromed off him and behind Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick in the third period, a tally Staal hopes is the first of many more.
“That’s usually what happens,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s how it happens but if you don’t keep shooting – my dad always used to tell me you get six, seven shots on goal a game, somehow one finds the back of the net. It doesn’t matter how it goes in, but you seem involved when that happens. And when you’re involved, you get opportunities.”
Not only was this game an opportune time for Staal to deliver, but it was an important response from the Wild on the heels of two discouraging losses to the Red Wings and Flyers.
Circumstances were tough, with the team playing the night before in Philadelphia, but the Wild was steady from start to finish.
“You watch the scoreboard every day, and it’s pretty bunched up right there,” Boudreau said. “When you lose two in a row or three out of four, it really puts a damper into everything. So it was a good way after a back-to-back, traveling from Philadelphia, we competed so much harder last night and I think they wanted to do it to show the fans, too, that we’re not the team that lost 5-2 to Detroit. We’re better than that, and I thought they did tonight. They gave it everything they had – everybody.”
This result improved the Wild to 5-3 in the second half of back-to-backs; it also was just the team’s second win on home ice in the last seven tries.
“That's huge to me,” said winger Jason Zucker, who scored the lone shootout goal. “We want to make sure that we're a good team, especially in this building and lately we haven't done that. So we want to make sure that anytime we come out here, whether it's back-to-back or off of rest, we want to make sure we are playing well here."
While Quick shined, helping the Kings bank a point, backup Alex Stalock was also strong.
He made 31 saves and didn’t yield a goal in the shootout. His puck-handling was an asset for the Wild, helping it move up ice, but his roving did end up in a few dicey sequences – including in overtime.
“I’ve always had, in our experience, confidence in him even though he scares me half to death,” Boudreau said. “But he did a great job for 57 minutes with the puck. The one in overtime sort of scared me a little bit, but he helped the defensemen immensely I thought moving the biscuit – especially on a back-to-back.”