With his team trailing Colorado 4-1 in the third period that January night, coach Mike Yeo needed to find something to give the Wild new life. So he sent a trio of the team’s most skilled forwards over the boards — Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville — in the hope that three brilliant individuals would be even better together.
Creating line combinations is an inexact science, one that often defies logic and expectation. That night, though, Yeo’s instinct paid immediate dividends. The line produced three goals in a 10-minute span, one from each player, and left all three exhilarated by the possibilities.
Since then, the combination of Parise, Granlund and Pominville has proved to be as inspired as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Three ingredients that are good on their own have melded into a greater whole, one that has generated 12 goals and 21 assists in 11 games together.
The threesome has given the Wild a potent, reliable top line as it continues its push toward a playoff spot, which continues Saturday against Columbus at Xcel Energy Center. They credit their success to the wealth of traits they have in common, including vision, determination and playmaking ability. In talking about their time together, all three also mention another quality: all the fun they’ve been having since they joined forces.
“Sometimes it just happens, and things fall into place,’’ said Parise, whose third-period goal Thursday — assisted by Pominville and Granlund — boosted the Wild to a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers. “Our first period together was unbelievable, and we’ve been able to maintain it. We’ve been able to get better and do it more consistently.
“It makes the game so much fun. You look forward to every game, because you know as a line you’re going to have a handful of great opportunities to score.’’
They’re not the only ones enjoying it. “From the time we put them together, it wasn’t hard to figure out they were going to have some chemistry together, and they were going to be able to create some stuff,’’ Yeo said. “It’s been fun to watch.’’
While it might seem obvious to put three such dynamic, productive players on the same line, discovering a combination as complementary as this one is harder than it appears. Even on teams laden with talent, factors such as injuries, egos and differing personalities can complicate the task.
A number of things had to happen to pave the way for the Parise-Granlund-Pominville line to form. Granlund, disappointed by his performance as a rookie last season, returned as a stronger, more confident player ready for a bigger role. He and Pominville landed on the same line early in the season and developed into a solid tandem.
Parise had played alongside center Mikko Koivu since signing with the Wild in 2012, but their partnership was interrupted this winter by injuries to each. When Parise returned to the lineup in January, Koivu was still recovering from ankle surgery.
At that point, Granlund and Pominville had formed a productive line with Nino Niederreiter, and Yeo hoped to create some balance by trying Parise on another line. He soon decided he needed Parise with players who would maximize his abilities, and he assembled the new threesome in Parise’s fourth game back.
All three players said the key to their success has been their work ethic and their movement on the ice. None of them is a physically imposing player; for them to create scoring chances, Pominville said, they must keep skating constantly. Granlund is particularly good at making plays. Pominville and Parise both like to shoot, and Parise is skilled around the net.
“When we’re moving, we’re tough to contain,’’ said Pominville, who leads the Wild with 24 goals and 46 points. “And all three of us work hard and compete and battle, which definitely helps.
“We had chemistry right away, but the longer you’re together, the more you get a chance to talk and know each other’s tendencies and know what they want you to do in certain situations. All three of us communicate well, and that benefits us on the ice.’’
When Koivu returned, Yeo chose to keep Parise with his new mates. The coach said he spoke to Koivu, who was on board with the change — in part because the Wild’s growing roster depth means there are more quality linemates to go around. “Both of them need to play with top-end guys,’’ Yeo said, “and now we have that ability.’’
Parise said Granlund now anticipates where he and Pominville will be, which has made the line even more effective — and even more enjoyable than on that first day in Denver.
“Those two guys are smart players, and we all get along really well,’’ he said. “That just makes the game easier. We’re having a lot of fun.’’