Wild coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t check in with players as soon as they start to struggle.
He waits, giving them the chance to figure out a solution on their own.
But with Jason Zucker coming off a point-free performance on the team’s recent four-game road trip and mired in a goal drought, Boudreau met with the winger Thursday morning and expressed his confidence in the player.
“I hate watching you come off the ice looking so down all the time,” Boudreau related. “So it’s time you had a chance to have some fun.”
Zucker appeared to do just that later in the evening, scoring twice — including the game-winning goal — to help lift the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Jets in front of an announced 19,072 at Xcel Energy Center that secured the team’s fourth victory in its past five games and fifth over the past seven.
The Wild is also 3-0 against Winnipeg this season.
“I’ve got to do it consistently now,” Zucker said. “I can’t be happy with just one game and a couple goals and shut it back down.”
Zucker’s emergence held up amid clutch special-teams play and a 26-save showing from goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who has been almost unbeatable of late.
“I felt great,” Dubnyk said. “It helps when the guys are boxing out and letting me see pucks. It allows you to hold onto them.”
Over his past six games, Dubnyk is 5-1 with a .936 save percentage and 2.01 goals-against average. He was airtight while the Wild assembled a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Only 5 minutes, 40 seconds into the first period, center Eric Staal fed rookie Jordan Greenway for a shot that trickled through Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
In the second period, captain Mikko Koivu fed Zucker for a redirect in front on the power play at 11:04, only the Wild’s second score with the man advantage in its past 25 tries. Overall, the unit finished 1-for-2 against the Jets.
“He did what he’s supposed to do. He goes to the front of the net. That’s how he gets goals,” said Boudreau, who had Zucker post up on the power play after remembering how fruitful that spot was for him last season — an area that allows him to capitalize on his strong hand-eye coordination.
And after the team survived a Zucker hooking penalty, winger Zach Parise flipped the puck into the offensive zone for Zucker to catch up to for a breakaway — which he converted by lifting the puck over Hellebuyck at 17:50. The two-goal output stopped a seven-game goalless skid.
“That was unbelievable,” Zucker said. “I was just sitting in the box just hoping. … It was a great alley-oop pass all the way down.”
The Wild’s penalty kill finished 4-for-4, surrendering only four shots to the Jets’ talented setup.
“That was outstanding,” Boudreau said.
With 41 seconds left in the second period, Winnipeg wrecked Dubnyk’s bid for a second consecutive shutout when winger Brandon Tanev pounced on a loose puck in front. Dubnyk’s shutout streak ended at 108:51, and he was busy the rest of the way because the Wild didn’t register a shot on net in the third period. Hellebuyck ended up with 19 saves.
Pressure by the Jets eventually resulted in their second goal, when center Mark Scheiefele wove a shot through traffic with 2:38 remaining.
But the Wild held on, once again reaping the reward of steady goaltending and opportunistic scoring — this time from one of its offensive leaders.
“I was definitely very critical of myself, and I think I deserved that,” Zucker said. “So it was nice to be able to get those couple.”