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Russo's Rants

Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Postgame: Boudreau lauds fourth line after Wild wins its first shootout this season

The Wild keeps getting points in the standings. Playing for the fifth time in overtime in nine games, the Wild took a 3-2 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

That’s points in eight of nine games for the Wild, which nearly made it 9 for 9 by rallying from two goals down in the third in Vancouver only to give up a late winning goal in regulation to the Canucks.

For the second time in five nights, the Wild caught the Oilers on the tail end of back-to-back games. The Wild outshot the Oilers 20-7 in the third period and overtime, including nine in overtime and a couple pipes by Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal.

But in the shootout, after Jason Pominville gave Minnesota 1-0 lead in Round 1, Leon Draisaitl kept the Wild from winning it in the third round. After Charlie Coyle missed, Devan Dubnyk denied Connor McDavid, scoreless in two meetings with Minnesota. In Round 5, Chris Stewart, after saying he locked eyes with Bruce Boudreau, scored, but so did Jordan Eberle to keep the Wild from winning right there.

Eric Staal buried his Round 6 chance, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed the net as the Wild won its 49th game and accumulated points 107 and 108 all-time against the Oilers.

The Wild improved to 12-3-1 in its past 16 against the Oilers and 22-4-1 in its last 27 home games against the Oilers since Feb. 25, 2007

That’s 18 one-goal games now out of 26 (7-7-4). Twenty-two blocked shots tonight for the Wild. Per @stateofstats, Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter were only on for nine shot attempts each.

Solid, effective game from the fourth line of Chris Stewart, Tyler Graovac and Kurtis Gabriel. They’ve been a trio since Calgary four games ago, and coach Bruce Boudreau is growing more faith in them. Tonight, he said other than McDavid, he quit caring which Edmonton lines he threw the trio out against.

That’s because they spent much of the game in the offensive zone and had seven attempted shots.

“It’s great. I mean, they bring energy -- all three of those guys,” Boudreau said. “And Grao had a couple really good chances. And they play big; they give the rest of the team some protection. And it didn’t matter where I played them, if it was their fourth line. After the first period, I quit caring who they were playing against, because they were doing a good job -- other than playing against McDavid. I wanted Mikko against McDavid all night.”

On Gabriel, Boudreau said, “He’s a physical presence out there, and he’s support for Stewie if Stewie wants to get a little bit mean in there, you know? We didn’t have that secondary toughness, and I thought that was very important, and Gabes has given it to us. I didn’t know how well Stewie would play on left wing, but he’s played very well there.”

On the line, Stewart said, “We have just been working. The communication is there. As an older guy, I take pride in having us ready to play every night. And tip the hat to those guys because they've been soaking it in like sponges and asking questions and trying to get better. When we've got two guys that are willing to learn and me being a veteran guy we are on the same page. We are holding onto pucks down there. We are getting chances to score every night and things are going well.

On Gabriel, Stewart said, “He's a big guy, a big body. He's willing to drop the gloves and teams don't want to play against guys like that. When he's on the ice I know guys are looking over their shoulder and that only makes us more dangerous.”

Before Gabriel was here, the fourth line was ineffective and Boudreau was showing no trust in them. Now, they’re all elevating their games. Graovac’s playing well, no dummy seeing Zac Dalpe on the ice this morning, surely. And Gabriel continues to fill the fourth-line role of size, physicality, being reliable defensively, something Teemu Pulkkinen couldn’t do earlier in the season. We’ll see how long he can run with it, but the good news is something has gotten into Stewart because he was MIA on too many nights before Calgary and now he’s churning well.

Of Dubnyk’s 25 saves, six were on McDavid.

Dubnyk called him a “fun challenge” who doesn’t make it comfortable out there. He joked he wouldn’t want to play him every night because you know you’re not going to shut down a talent like him every night.

Dubnyk is 5-0-2 in his past seven with a 1.79 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. He still leads in GAA and SV% this season, and he improved to 8-1 all-time against the team that drafted him in the first round in 2004.

On that great, tricky save he made on McDavid early in the game, Dubnyk said, “You just have to try to be patient. It’s hard. When he’s moving as fast as he is, the tendency is you want to speed up and try to keep up with him. And that’s when he’s going to make you pay. It’s a constant challenge for the whole game.”

On piling up points, he said, “It’s important to just build and build and build and build. It’s a long season. There’s always going to be dips during the year. You need to give yourself a little bit of buffer with some injuries or whatever it might be, the bigger buffer you give yourself, the better off you’ll be.”

Staal, who missed on his 800th career point in overtime by hitting the post late, scored in the shootout. He said, “I was disappointed not being able to finish it off in overtime. When I had the opportunity and had a chance to go down there I wanted to make sure I buried it for the group. Because I felt like I should've had that one (in overtime).”

Stewart and Boudreau exchanged some funny looks in the shootout after Coyle missed, and that’s why he got chosen. Staal improved to 6 for 24 all-time, Stewart 8 for 23.

“When Chuckie was up and missed I kind of locked eyes with Bruce there and kind of gave him the look there letting him know I was ready to go,” Stewart said, laughing. “I haven't had great success. I've definitely had decent success in the shootout. I had the breakaway goal in Toronto and I'm definitely feeling it. I want to be in games. I want to be in spots like that. I want to win the game for my team. So I don't mind putting the pressure on.”

Matt Dumba, who scored the tying goal in the second period, also talked about the importance of winning these tight ones.

“We were kind of on the opposite end of that last year where we weren’t winning these games and then you get down into March and February and you’re wishing you would have,” he said  “It’s awesome seeing us bear down in these situations.”

Boudreau, on the same subject, said, “Well, all the games are like this. How many times have we had more than a one-goal game? I don’t remember. But if anything, it teaches you how to be calm in a one-goal game, whether you’re up a goal or down a goal, whether you’re pushing or protecting. So, I mean, I think it’s good experience and good help for everyone.

“It sounds great during the season to say, ‘Well, at least we got a point.’ But in the end, those two points seem so much bigger that just one.”

The Wild had a ton of good looks on an overtime 4-on-3. Five shots, two posts. The Wild’s 0 for 14 the past six games on the power play.

Boudreau said, “I mean, we had some great opportunities, some great looks. I felt bad for the guys because they work at the power play all the time, and they deserved something tonight, but they didn’t get it. They still played well.”

Jason Zucker now has seven points in his past seven games with his goal, Nino Niederreiter now has eight points in his past nine games after his assist on Dumba’s goal.

Five overtimes in the last nine, six straight one-goal games. I’m kaput and heading home. Talk to you after Saturday’s practice.

Parise could return to Wild's top line vs. Oilers, McDavid

Wild, coming off a 2-1-2 road trip, and Oilers tonight at Xcel Energy Center as Minnesota plays at home for the first time since sweeping a two-game homestand Nov. 25.

This is the first of three consecutive games at home and second in three games against the Oilers. The Wild is 11-3-1 in its past 15 against the Oilers and 21-4-1 in its last 26 home games against the Oilers since Feb. 25, 2007. Thanks to Mikko Koivu’s overtime winner, the Wild won in Edmonton on Sunday. This is the second straight meeting the Wild’s catching the Oilers on a second of a back-to-back. They played in Philadelphia on Thursday night, and lost 6-5.

Koivu has eight points in his past eight games and his 44 points in 57 games against Edmonton is his most vs. any opponent. Jason Zucker has seven points in his past seven games. Eric Staal is a point from becoming the 13th active player with 800.

Oilers star Connor McDavid, held scoreless against the Wild on Sunday (coach Bruce Boudreau said the reason was "a lot of praying," is leading the league with 26 assists, 38 points and 12 multi-point games. He has two goals and an assist in four games against Minnesota. Jordan Eberle has 20 points in 24 games against the Wild.

Couple other factoids: The Wild’s 48 wins and 106 points against Edmonton are its most against any franchise. … The Wild’s power play went 0 for 10 on the road trip but is 5 for 11 in its past three home games. … Seventeen of the Wild’s 25 games have been one-goal outcomes (6-7-4).

Devan Dubnyk vs. almost surely Cam Talbot tonight.

Mostly cut and paste from the Wild press notes, Duby Duby Du leads the NHL in GAA (1.65), SV% (.946) and shutouts (4) this season. Since joining the Wild, the former Oiler is 4-1-0 with a 1.39 GAA, .938 SV% and one shutout against Edmonton. With Edmonton, he posted a 61-76-21 record, 2.88 GAA, .910 SV% and eight shutouts in 171 games during five seasons. Since his Wild debut on Jan. 15, 2015, Dubnyk is 70-41-11 with a 2.05 GAA, .928 SV% and 14 shutouts in 126 games – leading the NHL in games, shutouts, SV% and GAA, and ranking second in wins in that span amongst NHL goalies with at least 65 games played. The 30-year-old has not allowed more than three goals in a game this season, only allowing four-plus goals in 10 of his 126 all-time games with the Wild. Dubnyk has allowed 23 total goals (14 at even-strength) in his last 16 games since Oct. 25, stopping 480-of-503 shots in that span to account for a .954 SV%, a 1.43 GAA and four shutouts.

Christian Folin and Zac Dalpe (knee injuries) rejoined the Wild during the morning skate. Folin has been cleared to play and will take warmups tonight. I'd say he's unlikely to play, but Zach Parise and Erik Haula returned to the Wild lineup after only one practice and longer time off, so maybe Folin does get in for Nate Prosser or -- dare we say -- Matt Dumba.

On how significant a loss Folin was for the road trip, Boudreau said, "We don’t have a big defense and when he’s gone, it makes it smaller. And he was playing really well with [Jonas] Brodin. It’s always a big loss, but I think Pross has stepped in and done a really good job.”

Said Folin, "[Boudreau] asked me if I was ready and I said of course I'm ready. I'm excited to get back out there. The guys have been playing well. I'll wait to see what happens. ... I feel ready in my head. I've been watching a lot of games. My head is definitely in it. I did some good skating with ... Andy Ness and Zac [Dalpe], so my legs are there too. I feel ready to play."

On the check by Sidney Crosby, Folin said, "I was scared right away. I thought it was something really serious. I limped out into the tunnel. I didn't feel good right away. It kind of came around. I did some work. It was a long process, but I feel really good and feel comfortable on the ice.

"It was three to four weeks to start. And it's two weeks today in the afternoon. It's definitely faster. I did a good job eating and taking care of my body. I'm glad I'm back."

In the morning skate, Nino Niederreiter was back with Erik Haula and Jason Pominville and Zach Parise was back with Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle. If it doesn't work, Boudreau can always switch back.

The reason: Two-fold having to do with the same thing -- last line change.

Boudreau controls the matchup, so if McDavid is going to see plenty of Haula's line, having Niederreiter there makes sense because he's strong on the walls and spends most his shifts in the offensive zone.

It also can help Boudreau maybe try to control Parise's shifts and get him going.

"It’s gonna happen, he’s too good a player not to get going," Boudreau said of Parise, who has four goals and five assists in 18 games. He was pointless on the road trip after a solid homestand with Staal and Coyle before the trip.

"Corey Perry went 19 games without scoring before last game. [Ryan] Getzlaf has two goals this year. But those are great players and they’re gonna eventually score their goals. It’s only a matter of time before [Parise] gets in a rhythm and feels it and when he feels it, they’re gonna start going in for him.”

TV Listings

Local Schedule

  • Gophers women's hockey at Boston U.

    2 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan State

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Vikings at Jacksonville

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Gophers women's basketball at South Carolina

    2 pm on SECN, 88.5-FM

  • Northern Illinois at Gophers men's basketball

    4 pm on 1500-AM

  • St. Louis at Wild

    5 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Golden State at Timberwolves

    6 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Timberwolves at Chicago

    7 pm on ESPN, 830-AM

  • Florida at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Belmont at Gophers women's basketball

    12 pm on 88.5-FM

  • LIU Brooklyn at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • Wild at Nashville

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

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