Really solid win tonight for the Wild, which despite facing a defending Stanley Cup finalist that had points in eight straight games and two regulation losses in their previous 20, the Wild only gave up one goal to the fourth line in a 3-1 win.
The Wild only surrendered 21 shots and did a fine job on a list of Sharks greats – Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and many more.
(Angry Mikko Koivu above, shocked the officials were making him leave for the biggest draw of the game in the waning minutes because he was bleeding from the high-stick they didn't call on Pavelski).
Eric Staal scored twice, including an empty-netter, and looked to be skating really well. Zach Parise scored a power-play goal, Devan Dubnyk improved to 35-12-3 with a league-best 2.01 goals-against average and .933 save percentage and the Wild’s penalty kill extinguished four more to improve to 21 for 21 the past 10 games in that area.
The Wild improved to 28-3-2 when leading after two periods, 8-1-1 in its past 10 at home against San Jose and 16-3-2 this season after any loss, including 10 wins in a row.
“I’m really proud,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after the Wild allowed five third-period shots. “I thought that was our best game defensively maybe this year, especially in the third period. … This was the way we were playing when we were in our streak and we got away from it a little bit. That’s two one-goal games in a row, and hopefully we can continue that.”
Remember, before the 1-0 loss in Columbus, the Wild had allowed 14 goals in the previous three games, so Boudreau spent Wednesday’s off-day in Columbus cutting up video and holding a lengthy team meeting.
He demanded the team tighten up, or this thing could go off the rails despite a 2-1 record in those leaky games.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more games [like this] from now on and into the playoffs, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Parise said. “You’re not going to get a lot of run-and-gun games. You have to know how to win the one-goal games, how to protect a lead for the majority of the game. That team doesn’t give you a lot of great chances. I know we had a few, but they’re a tough team to play against.”
The Wild abided by Boudreau’s wish, and tonight it wasn’t easy because it played with five defensemen for more than 50 minutes.
Defenseman Christian Folin looked to seriously injure his right wrist or maybe shoulder after crashing hard against the end boards chasing a Joe Pavelski dump-in midway through the first period.
He was in bigtime pain, and Boudreau conceded after the game that “it didn’t look good” and he hopes to know more after Monday’s practice.
The Wild has Nate Prosser to replace Folin, and the Wild will most certainly have to recall a defenseman – Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly or Mike Weber – for the upcoming five-game road trip after the Wild plays St. Louis on Tuesday.
Parise and Jason Pominville, who were playing well before they got the mumps, didn’t miss a beat in their first game since Feb. 21. I thought Parise was great, and he was playing right wing for what he said was the first time in his life.
Why did he play the right side of Chris Stewart and Staal?
You’ll love this. Said Boudreau, “Well, Stewy’s been not bad on the left side, and I thought quite frankly that Eric Staal looks to his right more than he looks to his left sometimes, so if Zach’s on the right side and if Zach crosses the blue line, he gets to open up, he gets to see the play. I don’t know. These are just stupid things I think at home, and I’ll probably change my mind in a week. Who knows? But it worked. I thought that line played well.”
Parise liked the position “from our blue line out” because there are more options entering the offensive zone from the off-side.
“D-zone is the part I’ll have to work on and get better at,” Parise said. “You learn in peewees, you don’t want to be looking where you’re coming from, so it’s tough with that little blind area. A couple times Stewy and I were all over the place trying to figure out who was going where, but we made it work.”
Said Stewart, “We both ended up on the same wing a couple times. He’s been playing hockey 30 years. There’s some old habits there.”
Stewart loved being elevated to that line, saying, “Nice to be involved in the game. I’m not saying you’re not when you’re on the fourth line, but to play with some really good players, you could see the chemistry is getting better every game. Those guys, they’re world class players, you’ve just got to work for them and good things are going to happen.”
By the way, during one goalmouth scrum, Stewart even accidentally landed a right hook on Parise’s face.
“It’s chippy at the front of the net, so, I just was making sure he was into the game,” Stewart joked. “I thought I’d wake him up.”
Pominville assisted on Parise’s first-period power-play redirection – a great goal, incidentally. Pominville has 26 points in his past 26 games, including 20 assists in his past 23 games since (Jan. 7, third in the NHL in that span).
Parise has seven goals in his past 12 games after scoring eight in his first 39.
“I felt good,” Parise said. “I felt like I had a lot of energy. I didn’t really know which way it was going to go after having, basically, 10 days off.”
On the mumps to mumps power-play connection, Pominville said, “I didn't think about it until after during intermission, yeah, that’s pretty funny. We were able to retrieve a lot of pucks on the first power play and were able to move it around pretty good. Good play overall, he just stayed back door, I was able to fake a shot and slide it over to him and he got a good tip.”
He said he felt good in his first game back, too, saying, “Just getting some touches, getting on the ice, I think we were fortunate we had that one practice after our break, the Sunday practice, so we had that hard practice. The next day we were diagnosed, we were able to skip five days. If we wouldn’t have had that practice, it probably would’ve been close to 10 days since we were on the ice. We were able to practice on Friday too, which was nice. But overall, I can’t speak for him, but I’m sure he felt pretty good and I felt pretty good too.”
Staal really liked the way the Wild played, saying, “I thought last game we were pretty good too. We were just on the wrong side of it. We left Columbus feeling pretty good about our game and what we need to do to successfully win a lot of game. We got back to that pretty good tonight. They played strong defensively, too, and there wasn't a lot of room. That's going to be the case over the next few weeks.
“You look around the league and see scores -- I know last night there were a lot of 1-0, 2-1, shootouts. That's always the way it is. If we can continue to find ways to win playing strong defensively like that having our whole lineup contribute it's huge. That's what we want.”
One funny moment in the game: In between Parise and Staal’s first-period goals, Martin Jones made one of the flukiest saves in history.
Stewart took a shot where the puck actually entered Jones’ jersey through his neck hole and got caught in the collar behind his neck. Nobody knew where the puck was, so Stewart threw his arms up to celebrate a goal that wasn’t.
“From what I knew, it wasn’t over the mesh, so I just assumed it was somewhere in the back of the net,” Stewart said, laughing. “When he pulled it out of his neck, I don’t know where it came from.”
Added Boudreau, “Now that we won, it's pretty funny. I've never seen anything like that.”
Boudreau liked the Nino Niederreiter-Martin Hanzal-Charlie Coyle line, and Ryan White’s game.
“Marty is really responsible and that's great,” Boudreau said. “I thought Charlie had a little more jump and Nino had chances. He could've had five. He didn't get any, but he could've had five. We had good balance. I was even really -- and I don't want to sound surprised -- Ryan White was very responsible in the third period. It's early in my looking at him and knowing him and I'm saying I can use him in situation because he was very responsible out there and he did a good job on the boards.
Zach: Yeah. We both ended up on the same wing a couple times. He’s been playing hockey 30 years. There’s some old habits there. I thought it worked out pretty well.
Overall, on having the full lineup together for the first time since the Hanzal/White pickups, Pominville said, “I think we defended hard, especially in the third period. Didn’t really give up much. When we defend that hard, we’re a frustrating team to play against, a hard team to play against. It’s the way you want to win in the playoffs and the way you want to play. They’re a good team, they’ve won a lot of games lately and they’re a tough team to play against. I thought for the most part, everyone did a good job. We lost a d-man early too, so credit to our [defensemen], who played with five only and were able to do well.”
Added Dubnyk, “That’s exactly how we’re gonna need to play to win down the stretch here and into the playoffs. That’s as good of an example as you’re gonna get. We were tight, especially in the third period. We shut it down, gave ‘em nothing, but we weren’t sitting back. Their goalie made some really good saves; we still had opportunities to score, and that’s how we can play. That’s why we’re a dangerous team. We can create chances and score goals while still giving the other team nothing, so that was good to see.”
That’s it for me.
Just an fyi: You won’t be hearing from me the next three days. Rachel has practice Monday and Tuesday’s game against St. Louis, and Kent has Wednesday’s practice.