GLENDALE, ARIZ. - The Wild usually doesn't score first, let alone early. Heck, during one stretch in February the team went eight consecutive games without a first-period goal.
So when Jason Zucker scored 95 seconds into Thursday night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, there was a Twitter frenzy.
"Wild with a lead? It's like seeing Bigfoot ride by on a Unicorn," wrote one fan.
"Goal in the first two 2 min?!? Did we pull the goalie?" wrote another.
The Wild followed that up with its first 2-0 lead since Jan. 29 and first 3-0 lead of the season before finishing with four for the first time in 14 games to beat the Coyotes 4-3.
"For sure, it was different," said goalie Niklas Backstrom, not accustomed to such goal support. "It was a new feeling for everyone to come in the locker room after the first and second period."
It's not a Wild game, though, unless it's a one-goal game. Only Chicago (10) has more than the Wild's eight one-goal wins. So, of course, the team made sure it would have to hold on for dear life in the waning seconds by allowing two Phoenix goals in the final five minutes. The first was a fluky bank shot off a side glass partition (Backstrom said "the puck had eyes") that couldn't have been replicated if Keith Yandle tried it 100 times again.
"We understand the situation," said Dany Heatley. "It's going to be a grind. It's going to be a one-goal game no matter what." He added with a chuckle: "We had a pretty big lead and still made it a one-goal game."
Heatley highlighted his best game in a month with two goals, and Jared Spurgeon scored his first goal of the season for the eventual winner. Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi helped make the second line motor, at least early, with two assists apiece and Backstrom made 25 saves.
The Coyotes are 106-13-16 under Dave Tippett when scoring first, so the Wild, which had been averaging 2.06 goals per game, knew the importance of scoring first. Scoring the first three goals really helped.
The Wild had given up the game's first goal in six consecutive games and nine of the previous 10. But the rookie Zucker, with his parents, Natalie and Scott, brother, Cameron, and sister, Kimberly, making the trip from Las Vegas, struck 1:35 in.
Almost identical to his tying goal in Tuesday's overtime win over Calgary, the speedy, offensive-minded Zucker drove the net and redirected Cullen's centering feed for his third goal.
"We've been emphasizing our starts and trying to make sure we have a quick, fast start and try to play with a lead, and that's what we did," Zucker said.
Five minutes after Mike Rupp pummeled Paul Bissonnette in a fight, the Wild made it 2-0. Derek Morris stepped up on Pierre-Marc Bouchard at the blue line, so Bouchard sent what Heatley termed "a sick" touch pass for an odd-man rush. Heatley sniped his second goal in 14 games.
Ryan Suter, who had another outstanding night on the back end, also assisted on the goal. The NHL's ice time leader has 12 assists -- tied for third among NHL defensemen -- and eight in his past nine games.
Heatley scored again six minutes into the third. It came after Setoguchi checked Mikkel Boedker off the puck. A brilliant pass by Cullen later, and Heatley scored his seventh goal with a one-time howitzer from between the circles.
Heatley's been under scrutiny lately, but besides the goals, the veteran was strong defensively and drew a penalty that led to Spurgeon's power-play goal that eventually chased Mike Smith from net.
"Whenever I score, I think everyone thinks it's a good game and if I don't, it's not a good game," Heatley said.