NEW YORK – White-knuckle hockey has been the norm this season for the Wild, with 22 games decided by one goal and another 16 boiling down to two.
Considering the results from those showdowns are split among wins, losses and extra-time defeats, more experience dealing with nerve-racking finishes probably doesn’t hurt a Wild group with playoff aspirations.
And that’s exactly what the team banked Monday afternoon, as it managed to bubble-wrap a second-period lead until it morphed into a 5-3 victory over the Islanders in front of an announced 15,342 at Barclays Center. It was the Wild’s third road victory in its past four tries and an encouraging start to its three-game Tri-State Area trip.
“You want to get used to that feeling of holding on and winning all these different ways where we’re down and we come back,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “Every situation that we go through and we come up on top is something to draw from.”
With the Wild up 4-3 entering the third, Dubnyk played a key role in the preservation effort by posting 17 of his 32 saves.
That pressure from the Islanders was especially dangerous during a mid-period power play, as bodies, sticks and the puck descended on Dubnyk’s crease. But the Wild was able to hold steady until it got a much-needed insurance goal from winger Jason Zucker — his second of the game — with 3:22 to go. Zucker was left alone in front when both Islanders defensemen went behind the net, and he one-timed an Eric Staal feed for his 25th goal of the season.
“It’s certainly nice to see that fifth goal go in,” Dubnyk said. “You can breathe a little easier.”
There wasn’t much wiggle room for either side the entire game.
The Wild opened the scoring on a rare goal from center Joel Eriksson Ek, who deflected a Charlie Coyle centering feed from the corner behind goalie Jaroslav Halak 7:02 into the first period for his first goal since opening night. But the lead didn’t make it to intermission. With 45 seconds to go, winger Ross Johnston tipped a Johnny Boychuk shot by Dubnyk.
New York struck first in the second when Edina native Anders Lee redirected a Thomas Hickey shot through Dubnyk’s pads only 1:57 into the period for his 30th goal.
But then the Wild took over.
Center Matt Cullen finished off a breakaway at 9:54 after he sneaked behind the Islanders defense and buried a Ryan Suter pass. Only 2:23 later, Suter set up Zucker for a one-timer over Halak’s glove, and just 1:49 after that, Tyler Ennis tucked in a backhander off a feed from Cullen.
“I thought our third and fourth lines were the ones that carried us,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They did a great job in the second period.”
The Islanders had a response, though, with winger Tanner Fritz scoring his first NHL goal — a shot from the slot that eluded Dubnyk’s glove — at 16:31.
“That’s definitely my shot,” Dubnyk said. “All you do after that is make sure they don’t get another one and nobody cares.”
And the Islanders didn’t, blanking on two third-period power plays to go 0-for-4.
“All these games get you ready if you make it to the playoffs,” Boudreau said, “because this is the way playoffs are going to be.”