Wild center Eric Staal hung his head.
Despite staring down a mostly empty net with Chicago Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward pulled off to one side, Staal still directed the puck into Ward’s pads — a missed opportunity that symbolized a rough debut for the team’s scorers.
“There’s going to be times those go in automatically, and there’s going to be times they don’t,” Staal said. “You stay with it and stay on it.”
Staal knew he would get another crack and when his do-over arrived, with the puck once again finding him in front of a yawning cage, he buried it — sparking the Wild to claw back for an eventual 4-3 overtime victory Thursday in front of 18,652 at Xcel Energy Center that secured the team’s first victory of the season.
“We needed this win,” Staal said. “It gives you a better vibe — confidence. It wasn’t the be-all, end-all. But it’s big to get that first win.”
Jason Zucker capped off the comeback with his second goal of the game, 3 minutes, 25 seconds into OT when he polished off a breakaway with a backhander — this after defenseman Ryan Suter tied it at 3-3 with 23 seconds left in regulation while the Wild was on a penalty kill, a triumphant conclusion for the team’s offense, which put up 46 shots on goal against the Blackhawks.
“Everybody needs to get a good feeling going at some point,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who racked up 27 saves. “I don’t think you could pick a better game the way it finished out to get us excited in here.”
After managing only two goals in two games last week, the Wild used a four-day break in the schedule to tweak the lines and harp on improving its speed. And while the team did apply more pressure in the first period, it still tripped into a two-goal hole.
Chicago winger Alex DeBrincat slung a shot by Dubnyk 10:07 in and only 2:43 later, Dominik Kahun capitalized.
At the other end, Staal and Zucker had a handful of close calls before Staal blanked on his glorious chance near the end of the period. But the execution the duo was lacking surfaced in the second amid a different setup, with Jordan Greenway joining the two in place of Joel Eriksson Ek.
At 13:19, Zucker sent a backhand pass through the crease and before Ward could recalibrate to the other post, Staal redirected the puck in for his first goal of the season — which teed off a celebration that oozed relief.
“I felt like we were going to get lots of looks,” Staal said. “I knew the puck was going to be following us around a little bit. That’s always a good feeling for an offensive guy when you have that puck kind of following you around.”
With three seconds left in the period, Staal set up Zucker after collecting a Greenway pass and Zucker wired the puck in for his first.
But only 2:29 into the third, DeBrincat scored his second of the night on the power play; the Blackhawks went 1-for-5, while the Wild was 0-for-2.
The Wild’s special-teams play was able to rebound, though, with Suter scoring shorthanded to set the stage for Zucker’s winner.
“I wasn’t happy with how I played the first two games,” Zucker said. “I thought I had some good spurts. It just wasn’t good enough. I know the way I can play, and [Thursday] was much more like it. I think everybody would’ve said the same thing about the first two games. We all wanted to step up and play well.”