I’m not sure what was more impressive: That the Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Chris Stewart line lit it up offensively Saturday night or that it kept the Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Marian Gaborik line off the scoreboard.
That was the matchup coach Mike Yeo was content to go with during much of Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.
In a 4-1 win, Niederreiter scored his 23rd and 24th goals, including a huge power-play goal late in the third period to give Minnesota a two-goal edge, and Mikko Koivu scored twice, including the game-winning goal for the second straight night. He also assisted on Niederreiter’s first goal.
Stewart had two assists. Each member of the line was plus-3. Kopitar, whom I’m a big fan of, could not have been worse. He was a well-earned minus-3 and Gaborik and Williams were each minus-2.
The Niederreiter-Koivu-Stewart line was solid for a second game in a row and it has been for awhile. As I wrote last week, Stewart’s arrival has allowed Yeo to go with a consistent first, second and third line every night.
All three forwards say their chemistry has come from trust.
“When you get new guys playing together, it’s going to take awhile,” the captain said. “I thought we started well with the line, but not necessarily getting rewarded.”
Yeo said it’s not just the puck going in, it’s the job his linemates are doing on the walls, defensively and reading off of each other. We know how Yeo trusts Koivu to go up against any line and any player in the NHL. It says a lot that Yeo trusts Niederreiter, who has embraced the defensive side of the puck this season, and Stewart, who came from Buffalo with the type of minus that would win him a golf tournament.
Evening after the Wild’s fifth straight win to gain an eight-point cushion on Calgary and to move one point up on Chicago (maybe temporarily because the Hawks play Sunday against Winnipeg and have two games in hand) for third in the Central. Good achievement, but it wouldn’t change anything. Wild would still be the road team against the second-place Central team in the first round if that’s where it finishes. If the season ended right now, that would be St. Louis.
“Those standings are going to change 10 times by the end of the year,” Stewart said. “You can’t live or die on that rollercoaster. Wherever we land we land.”
Added Koivu, “It doesn’t matter right now where you’re at. It matters after 82.”
As always, please check out the gamer for further detail, and I’ll be on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. Sunday and 9 a.m.-9:30 Monday in-studio. I’m also filling in for Dan Barreiro for his entire 3-6:30 p.m. show Thursday and will be doing a live chat on startribune.com this week.
For the third consecutive home game, the Wild chased the opposition’s starting goalie. Tonight, Darryl Sutter gassed the media, but we assume he yanked Jonathan Quick after one period because he was trying to give his team a jolt after the Wild looked three steps ahead of the Kings in the first period.
The jolt worked because the second period was one-sided in favor of L.A. The Wild was outshot 17-5, gave up one goal and then had to kill off back-to-back power plays late in the second period, including an abbreviated 5-on-3.
Devan Dubnyk made five of his 31 saves during that situation and seven on three Kings power plays in the game.
“It’s something during this run that has been so huge for us,” Dubnyk said of the NHL’s top-ranked PK. “We’ve got a lot of confidence. You never want to put yourself in those positions against a group like them that has as much skill on the power play, but unbelievable work. We came out and had a real good first period and put ourselves in a good position where sometimes you’ve just got to hang on. We got some big kills and big blocks.”
The biggest was from Jonas Brodin, who denied Tyler Toffoli with a desperation stick as he nearly tied the game with a giant wide-open net in front of him.
“Brods saved me from one there. It’s perfect,” Dubnyk said. “It was a wide-open net. It happens so fast. [Drew Doughty] hammered it from in tight. It comes off my pads so hard, all I had a chance was to look over and think it was going in the net. Brods saved it for me.”
Dubnyk, since being pulled in Detroit on Jan. 20, is 4-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with six goals allowed and a .967 save percentage. This was another game where the Wild’s legs got heavy and it wasn’t able to establish a forecheck because of those heavy legs. But it defended well. Just a lot. But Dubnyk has always been there to save the day in these instances.
“Back to backs are always tough. They’re tough on everybody,” he said. “I’ve kind of got into a good rhythm. We’ve had a lot this month (four, and two this week). You don’t skate in the morning. Sometimes you’re a little tired, but you can kind of just build off the game the night before. It’s sometimes nice to get out there and blend it into the previous game. You’re used to the flow.”
He has started 34 in a row for the Wild and 35 in a row overall. He could use a break, and the Wild has four days off in a row now before the Rangers come to town Thursday.
“We don’t usually get this much time, so it’s a good chance to think about it, relax a bit and get ready for Thursday,” Dubnyk said.
Yeo said he was “extremely impressed the way that our guys came out ready to play that game.” He said after winning Friday against Calgary, the Wild returned with a “real sharp focus and determination.”
For the first time, Yeo allowed himself to admit the Wild is mathematically in great position to make the playoffs and said his team should be proud of this 24-5-1 post-All-Star break run that includes no losses by more than a goal, no consecutive losses and a plus-47 goal differential in a 26-6-2 streak under Dubnyk.
But he wants the team to enjoy its four days off. The Wild has Sunday off and most the big-minute guys have Monday off. But then he wants the team back Tuesday and Wednesday for some intense, solid practices to ramp things back up before the final six games of the regular season.
He said it’s all about improving habits right now to get ready for the intensity and pressure of what is likely the Wild’s third consecutive postseason.
Christian Folin, scratched in five in a row and nine of 11, was reassigned to Iowa after the game so he can play against Chicago on Sunday and get some games. He’ll be back.
That’s it for me. No practice Sunday. I’m writing a story for Monday from somebody I’m sure you miss hearing about. Rachel Blount will be covering Monday’s optional practice as I work on a story on the NHL Situation Room. I shadowed the video war room last Sunday in Toronto, which was an eventful day if you remember in the NHL. That’ll be kind of like a Part 2 to my Player Safety shadowing earlier this season. You can read that here.
Lastly, check out this goal from Wild prospect goalie Kaapo Kahkonen and the goal call