UNIONDALE, N.Y. – For parts of five seasons, Matt Moulson filled the net 118 times for the New York Islanders and became a popular face among the Islanders faithful.
So naturally, besieged Islanders General Manager Garth Snow traded the net crasher to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek, a fellow pending free agent who had no intention of re-signing with the Islanders.
Tuesday night, Moulson returned to Long Island for the first time since that October trade. The Islanders paid tribute to him on the video board. Moulson then proceeded to stick it to his old team by scoring twice, including the winner, during a three-point night as the Wild won a 6-0 rout at Nassau Coliseum.
Moulson bookended the game by scoring the first and sixth goals — a season high for the Wild. Fans chanted “We Want Moulson!!!” in the final five minutes and gave him an earsplitting ovation when he was announced as the game’s first star.
“I was here for a long time and this team has a big place in my heart,” said Moulson, who couldn’t sleep while trying to take a pregame nap. “It was pretty emotional.”
Former Islanders unsigned draft pick Jared Spurgeon also scored a goal and was plus-4. The blowout allowed partner Ryan Suter to play a season-low 23 minutes, 15 seconds. He was also plus-4.
Justin Fontaine scored a goal and had an assist, Mikael Granlund also scored a goal, defensive defenseman Clayton Stoner, not exactly known for his soft hands, scored a silky-smooth breakaway goal and captain Mikko Koivu assisted on three goals to pass Marian Gaborik for first on the Wild’s all-time list (438 points).
“It’s a great feeling,” said Koivu, a 2001 first-round pick who made his NHL debut in 2005. “I’m passing Gabby. He’s a pretty good scorer, so I did something right.”
Oh, and in his first victory and shutout with the Wild, veteran Ilya Bryzgalov made 36 saves and enabled Minnesota to get its footing by making 16 stops in the first period. Coach Mike Yeo felt the Wild looked tight early, whether that be because of fatigue from playing in Boston the night before or nerves from a 1-2-3 slide.
But the Wild is now five points up on eighth-place Phoenix and seven up on ninth-place Dallas.
“We’ve got to credit Bryz here,” Yeo said. “Bryz was outstanding, especially early.’’
Goals have been a chore for the Wild, but the floodgates opened in response to Yeo shuffling the bottom three lines. It was the Wild’s sixth six-goal victory in history.
Moulson got the party started by pouncing on Fontaine’s rebound. Only 3 ½ minutes later, Dany Heatley teed one up for Spurgeon. In the second period, and with the Zach Parise-Granlund-Jason Pominville line flirting, Pominville extended his point streak to six games by setting up Granlund.
The Wild built a 3-0 lead against the Islanders in St. Paul on Dec. 29. The Wild coughed that one up.
It wouldn’t this time. In the third period, Stoner emerged from the penalty box, took Koivu’s headman pass, sped in on a breakaway and scored a beauty.
His teammates loved it.
“It’s cool when guys get excited for you because maybe you don’t get the glory as much,” Stoner said.
Joked Yeo, “We might have been making some wrong reads on who should be going in the shootout and who should be playing on the power play,” a reference to Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke assisting on Moulson’s late power-play tally.
Moulson, acquired March 5, entered with one goal and an assist in six games. He was getting chances. It was just a matter of time until he found the back of the net, Moulson said.
It happened Tuesday, and Islanders fans loved it, serenading him throughout.
“I thought that was very classy of their crowd and reflects what kind of person this is, what he’s meant to that organization,” Yeo said.