The Wild had lost five games in a row at the Xcel Energy Center. There were some strong starts that led to nothing, and then the home team would fade into the St. Paul night.
The last home victory was on March 30. It was a shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings that moved the Wild into a tie for third in the West. When the Kings returned on Tuesday night, the Wild was tied for seventh in West, and holding a playoff spot by a precarious point over ninth-place Detroit.
The teams parried for a hunk of the first period, and then the Wild started a push. There were six consecutive shifts, maybe eight, where the Kings were forced backward, and yet there was nothing on the scoreboard.
Was this going to be a replay of most of April in the X?
There were four minutes left and the top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and rookie Charlie Coyle pushed the Kings deep again.
“We turned over the puck too much in the first period,’’ said Darryl Sutter, the crusty Kings coach. “You have to play 60 minutes against a desperate hockey team.’’
There was no desperation with Parise when he cornered the puck to the left of the net. Matt Greene seemed to have the front of the net covered, but Parise saw the 6-foot-2 Coyle open behind the L.A. defenseman.
“The puck just kind of went loose, and I looked for some space behind the guy [Greene],’’ Coyle said. “Zach wound up with puck and made a perfect pass, right on my tape.’’
Coyle put in his eighth goal for a 1-0 lead at 16:21. Finally, there was a reward for the streak of strong shifts. And 16 seconds later, there was another on Cal Clutterbuck’s goal.
The rapid-fire goals in the first period were enough for a 2-1 victory over the Kings. They also were enough to take the pressure off the Wild and put it on the cusp of the playoffs with two games left.
How did Parise fit that pass past Greene’s reach and onto Coyle’s stick? It looked like there was only an inch or 2 of room.
“I didn’t think there was any room,’’ Coyle said. “I don’t know how Zach got the puck through there.’’
Coyle turned 21 on March 2. He started the season with the Houston Aeros, was called up early for five games, and went back to the AHL for nine days.
Coyle came back and played with force. He also teamed with Koivu and Parise.
The Wild changed that briefly after the acquisition of Jason Pominville, as coach Mike Yeo decided to put his high-priced veterans together. That line didn’t look the same without the rugged, rambunctious Coyle on the right side.
Coyle was moved back five games ago. The opponents were the defending Stanley Cup champions and Parise-Koivu-Coyle was the best line on the ice.
Mikael Granlund was the rookie with the big buildup when this season started. He’s back in Houston again.