Nate Prosser has gone from being an everyday scratch to a 17-minute-a-night defenseman on the Wild’s second pair.
The Elk River native, who has played 12 consecutive games since being scratched for three consecutive weeks, continued his solid play in place of injured Jared Spurgeon on Thursday night by sparking an offensive explosion from the Wild.
Prosser’s first goal in nearly two years was the first of three tallies in a 3-minute, 23-second span as the Wild catapulted past the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1, at Xcel Energy Center.
“It was a full out team effort and we needed it,” Prosser said. “We needed a bounceback game after [Tuesday’s loss to Ottawa].”
The victory was the Wild’s sixth in eight games and snapped a two-game home losing streak. It was the seventh time in 11 games the Wild, playing without forwards Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, scored four or more goals.
With the Wild ahead 3-1 after Prosser and Justin Fontaine scored 2:12 apart late in the second, coach Mike Yeo walked down the runway before the start of the third period and thought, “Boy, it’s be nice to grab another goal here quickly.”
On his 22nd birthday, Jason Zucker abided by sticking the dagger into the Oilers eight seconds in. Zucker completed a beautiful give-and-go with Dany Heatley for his fourth goal in eight games and the fastest goal in Wild history to start a period.
Jason Pominville also scored a goal and assist and rookie Darcy Kuemper, making his third consecutive start, made 20 saves for his third victory and first at home.
“They’re showing some faith in me and I’m just trying to take advantage of it right now,” Kuemper said.
So is Prosser.
The 27-year-old 2010 free-agent pickup from Colorado College has assumed Spurgeon’s role alongside Marco Scandella ever since the defenseman broke his foot Jan. 2. In those seven games, Prosser is plus-7 averaging 17:19 of ice time a night.
Not bad for a guy who was scratched 13 straight games from Nov. 27-Dec. 22. Thursday, Prosser scored his first career winning goal and was a career-best plus-3.
“He is an unbelievable professional. He is an unbelievable team guy,” Yeo said of Prosser, who was on the ice for two goals against in 17 games last season. “There’s no question he’s made the absolute most of this opportunity.”
With Wild fans oh-so close to freaking out late in the second with the Oilers continually hemming the Wild into its end, Prosser and Fontaine turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead.
Ryan Jones got it started by coughing up the puck to Pominville. Pominville fed Prosser, who blasted a shot that popped out of Ben Scrivens’ glove and into the net. A few shifts later, after Matt Cooke crushed Nail Yakupov to trigger a 3-on-2, Fontaine, who grew up three hours north of Edmonton in Bonnyville, Alberta, scored off Kyle Brodziak’s rebound.
“We hear those fans, and we know that our play wasn’t up to par there for awhile in the second,” said Prosser, who said the feeling when he saw the red line go on for his first goal since Feb. 7, 2012, was “unbelievable.”
Pominville scored his 19th goal midway through the first period after hustling Mikael Granlund picked Martin Marincin’s pocket right in front of Scrivens.
Scrivens, acquired the day before from Los Angeles, came to Edmonton with a 1.97 goals-against average. That will surely skyrocket playing behind the NHL’s worst defensive team. The Oilers allow 3.52 goals per game and have allowed four or more goals 29 times.
The Oilers answered on Jordan Eberle’s snipe off a 2-on-1 early in the second, but Kuemper said, “There wasn’t really ever a doubt that this game was going to go our way.”