Very impressive 4-2 win for the Wild tonight in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins were 35-6-4 in their past 45 here and unbeaten in regulation here this season.
The defending Stanley Cup champs were also riding a seven-game overall point streak and seven-game point streak against Minnesota.
But the Wild got three goals from each forward on the Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle line (one on the power play) and a season-high 39 saves from Devan Dubnyk.
As expected, the Wild had to weather a bigtime storm early as rustiness was evident. In fact, the Staal line was a big part of that, especially Coyle, who had three first-period turnovers and a tired icing.
But after Sidney Crosby’s power-play goal, the Wild had its best power play of the season, buzzed the offensive zone for more than a minute and finally Coyle tied the score at 1-1 with a behind-the-back deflection of Ryan Suter’s whistler.
In the second, Patric Hornqvist’s attempted cross-crease pass to Crosby deflected past Dubnyk off Suter, but about 90 seconds later, Niederreiter scored a beautiful tying goal when he took a fabulous pass from Staal and roofed one from in tight.
In the third, after the Wild couldn’t convert on a 1:14 5-on-3 (actually only 45 seconds carried over into the third), Suter lugged a puck up ice, handed off to Coyle, and after Coyle actually almost skated himself into trouble at the top of the zone, he dumped the puck. Staal came in on a hard forecheck, Niederreiter came to help, and Kris Letang was tripped up (maybe with the aid of Staal), the puck went right to Coyle. He fired and Staal backhanded the rebound for the winning goal and his 65th career 3-point game and first with the Wild.
In 50 career games against Pittsburgh, Staal has 22 goals and 51 points. Staal had six shots. So did Suter (plus-3 in 31:17, such a rock tonight) and Jason Pominville (empty-netter) and Coyle had five shots.
Just a solid effort and a good response from a slow start to snap a two-game skid and get points in the standings for the first time since Oct. 29.
The Wild had a season-high 44 shots, 75 shot attempts, 32 hits (allegedly), 16 blocked shots and won 39 of 71 faceoffs (55 percent).
Staal on his line: “I think collectively just a touch rusty after not playing in a long time, but I knew they were feeling really good about their game, we gave them a couple looks early and Duby made some good saves, and then it felt like we got our game going, did the right things with the puck and spent a lot of time in their end and scored some timely goals, so it was a good effort and hopefully we can keep that up in Philly.”
Coyle on his goal: “It's a goal we definitely will take. Already down a goal it was nice to go into that intermission tied. It wasn't our best period by any means. We definitely picked it up after that.”
Coyle on goals late in periods: “It's definitely huge. It's always good sign -- on the road, tie game, we'll take it any day. It's tough being down and feeling like we have to fight back. ... It was definitely a little more comfortable to be able to play our game and know we're right there.”
Coyle on winning in Pittsburgh: “It's huge especially to start the road trip. We thought we played well last game and didn't come out with the win. So to play pretty decent here with a good second and third and to come out with a win in the first game of the road trip to kind of set the tone it's huge.”
Coyle on his line: “Obviously the points are nice. It's nice to contribute when we're play that way and we're big bodies and we handle the puck and a lot of talk. And we're playing aggressive too. I think we're going to get chances and goals when we're playing like that.”
Dubnyk on the game: “That’s a difficult task after as many days off as we had to go up against that group. It was a tough first 10 minutes. They were flying, and we were trying to get our feet and hands going again. But I thought we reacted real well after their power-play goal and perfectly continued to get better as each minute went by in that game. Real big win for us.”
Boudreau on the win: “These guys were ready. Our last two practices were really good. This was a great challenge going against the Stanley Cup champions.”
Boudreau on the start: “The first five minutes, we started throwing the puck away, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, we’re going to get killed,’ but once we settled down, a lot of good things happened. I thought we competed really hard.”
Boudreau on Staal line after a poor start for them: “They became monsters. We had 75 shots at the net and 32 hits. One equals the other, I swear, because that keeps the puck in their zone and that means your forecheck is working. Good win to start the trip.”
Boudreau on Erik Haula’s return: “He really added something to our team, gave me another option,” on the penalty kill and coming back with him after power plays.
That’s it for now. Boudreau told me after the game there’s a chance he starts Darcy Kuemper in Philadelphia and saves Dubnyk for Ottawa. My guess is the thought would be to give Kuemper a good chance to win behind a fresh team and not the one in Ottawa that’s playing 22 hours after the Philly puck drop. We’ll see.
There’s a good chance the Wild doesn’t practice Friday. With three games in four nights and back-to-back Philly and Ottawa and the Flyers’ game rink unavailable, I bet they scrap it. If so, no blog unless there’s news.