It took until Game No.3 for the Wild to secure its first win last season, a spunky effort in which the Wild outlasted the Blackhawks despite losing three forwards to injury – this after the team already started a man down.
That resiliency ended up being a hallmark of the 2017-18 Wild and if the team’s third test this October, against those familiar Blackhawks, ends up once again setting the tone for what’s to come, the vibe could be very similar.
After using a four-day break in the schedule to try to ignite a stagnant offense, the Wild responded with a gutsy come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory at Xcel Energy Center to snag its first win of the season.
And its offensive leaders were behind the comeback, with center Eric Staal, winger Jason Zucker and defenseman Ryan Suter combining for four goals and nine points.
“We all knew we haven’t been great the first two games,” Staal said. “So it was the response we needed to have from us and from guys that are counted on here. So we wanted to make sure we were ready to play, and tonight was a night where we had to stick with it obviously right to the end.”
Staal started the scoring when he potted his first of the season in the second to cut the Wild’s deficit in half. Zucker tied it at 2 late in the period, but an early power-play tally by the Blackhawks in the third had the Wild back in catch-up mode.
Cue Suter, who was pinching deep all night. He tapped in a loose puck in the crease with 23 seconds left in regulation, and that paved the way for Zucker to push the Wild ahead in overtime on a breakaway goal.
“Zucks is tough to stop when he's flying like that,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.
Winger Zach Parise set up both goals.
“Zuck was great,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When he’s moving his legs like that, he’s an elite player. But Zach and Staal at the end and Sutes, those guys really were on top of their game.”
The Wild will vie for Win No.2 Saturday when it hosts the Hurricanes, and it’ll be interesting to see if a few trends from this performance carry over.
- Zucker was one of the most dynamic presences on the ice against the Blackhawks, racking up a career-high 10 shots.
What stood out was his speed; he clearly didn’t finish every chance he got, but Zucker was buzzing around the net and throughout the offensive zone, and that opened up ice for himself and his linemates.
It also definitely helped the Wild put more pucks on net.
“We had the shooting mentality, and that was a lot of the emphasis this week on practice – shooting and a little quicker in the transition in the neutral zone,” Parise said. “I thought, for the most part, we learned a few things from the practice days."
- Jordan Greenway moved up to the Staal-Zucker line in the second period, replacing Joel Eriksson Ek.
Boudreau made the change because he thought Greenway was “thinking too much” while he was centering the third line, and Greenway definitely looked more comfortable on the wing next to Staal and Zucker.
“He’s got a ton of skill,” Staal said. “He’s a huge, big body, but he can make those little plays. He’s still got some good hands. He’s strong.”
- This was Suter’s best performance of the season, and him getting involved in the offense is an encouraging sign for the Wild.
Aside from the game-tying goal, he had a pair of assists.
“I think on all three of our goals I was down pretty close to the top of the crease,” Suter said. “ … Just trying to get to the net and help out.”