Big 4-0 win by the Wild over the Penguins tonight on many fronts.
As always, please read the gamer and notebook for all the details and my Sunday Insider on the Parise father-son trip that just took place.
First, it further strengthens the team’s hold on the top wildcard spot and strengthens its grasp on a second straight postseason. Wild’s got four games left and is now five up on Dallas (one less game) and six up on Phoenix. Magic number is three. It’s a little more complicated than this, but if the Wild gets one more regulation/overtime win, Phoenix would have to win out in regulation/overtime to even get it to a very complicated tiebreaker system. Basically, win two games and they don't have to worry about Phoenix.
Second, the Wild proved it can play well on home ice again. Who knew? In front of the largest home crowd in Wild history (19,409), the Wild jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead and was outstanding defensively the rest of the way to win for the second time in seven home games.
The Wild has played better on the road than at home since the Olympics, but the players avoided the first-game-back-from-a-long-road-trip blues and as Zach Parise said were excited to play here again and reestablish home dominance.
The Wild plays its final road game Monday in Winnipeg. A win would allow the Wild to finish the regular season .500 on the road (16-17-7 now, and for all you Patrick Reusse’s out there, .500 in the NHL is point percentage, and 17-17-7 is 41 of 82 possible points, so .500!!!! whether you agree with it or not).
The Wild then returns home to close the season against Boston, St. Louis and suddenly-hot Nashville.
Jim Souhan was out here and wrote a column on rookie Erik Haula, the seventh-round gem that continues to impress with Mikael Granlund out of the lineup. He scored his first career winning goal tonight (and did his first career postgame arena cam on NHL Network) and has a three-game point streak since Granlund’s injury.
He was good tonight. Great on the PK and beat out an icing. Haula, who scored the tying goal in a shootout loss two nights earlier in Chicago, got things started with impressive hustle and speed en route to his fifth goal. He scored a 200-foot goal by weaving the puck in the D-zone, handing it to linemate Jason Pominville and then blowing by defenseman Robert Bortuzzo to run down Moulson’s chip-in.
Cody McCormick, the forgotten soul in the Matt Moulson deal and scratched in five of the past seven games, scored a goal and assist. His goal came when he stayed out late for a shift and kept Mikko Koivu on the bench. Charlie Coyle (two assists) fought through a big hit on the wall to get the puck up to Parise, who set up the goal.
“I stayed on a little extra when I saw the offensive chance,” McCormick said, laughing.
Coach Mike Yeo used McCormick at center tonight and I think that’ll likely continue. He was physical, strong in his own zone and obviously had two points.
Stephane Veilleux continued his strong play with a goal, Koivu continued his surging play with a goal (13 points in 10 games) and Parise had two assists to hit the 500-point milestone. Ryan Suter was awesome (plus-3, two shots, three hits, two blocked shots), as was his defense partner, Jared Spurgeon, who was plus-3. Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves for his 33rd career shutout. He is now 5-0-3 with the Wild with a 1.87 goals-against average and could be looking at back-to-back, road/home starts at Winnipeg and at home vs. Boston with Darcy Kuemper hurt. He had a couple awesome saves, one you'll be seeing over and over to rob James Neal.
Terrific job tonight by the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine line. They got the task of going up against Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Beau Bennett for much of the game. The line combined for four shots and a minus-2, and Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer and likely Hart winner, went shotless for the second time this season and 23rd time in his career.
Brodziak also won 8 of 12 faceoffs, while Crosby lost 12 of 17.
So big win. Now onto Winnipeg. Wild practices here in the late morning and then fly to Winnipeg. I’ll come to you after practice at some point before or during my flight.