What could have been the easiest game story in history to write when Mikael Granlund followed his magnificent game-winning goal against Los Angeles with a three-point first period became a nightmare to write when Ryan Suter didn’t emerge for the second period because of an injury and the Wild’s 5-2 lead eventually became 5-5 with two Jets goals less than two minutes apart in the third.
But Marco Scandella intercepted a pass and hit Erik Haula on the far boards. 1 vs. 2 entering the zone, Haula executed a terrific no-look backhanded pass to a wide-open Jason Zucker in the slot.
Zucker had just come off the bench and the Jets had no clue. He received the pass after slapping his stick on the ice and yelling for Haula’s attention and whipped it home with 130 seconds left one game after scoring the tying goal against L.A. to force overtime.
Goal No. 20 for Zucker lifted Minnesota to a 6-5 win, the team’s 41st and 88th point to eclipse last year’s 87-point total. The Wild’s now 15-1-1 in its past 17 road games and has beaten Winnipeg in four meetings so far this season.
Crazy game, but bottom line: Coming off the bye, playing back-to-back, playing without mumps-stricken Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and losing Suter on Tuesday, the Wild got four points in two games to turn a one-point lead over Chicago in the West and Central to a five-point lead with a game in hand.
Now, before I continue, just a warning because frankly I’ve been nervous about this since the moment I unfortunately booked these flights: The trade deadline is at 2 p.m. Wednesday. I have an extremely early flight out of Winnipeg through MSP. I’ll connect to Columbus, where I’m due to land 1 ½ hours before the deadline.
As long as my wifi works in the air, I should be able to keep you informed from texts and emails I receive from folks and then to you via Twitter and blogs … hopefully. If I go radio silent on Twitter, pray for my heart because it means the wifi’s out.
I will do my best, but obviously, this isn’t the most ideal trade deadline for me and I may not be as prolific in getting news out there as I normally am on trade deadlines and free agency periods because I can’t work the phone.
What will the Wild do?
Not sure. A lot could depend on the severity of Suter’s injury – the Wild’s not disclosing it, nor the prognosis (Boudreau: “Don’t know yet. I have no idea right now.”); source is just saying they don’t think it’s serious. A lot could depend on how Zach Parise and Jason Pominville are feeling. A lot could depend on if they think the mumps is contained. A lot could depend on if the blue line and Darcy Kuemper’s play tonight scared the you know what out of the coaches and management.
“I’ll be in Columbus. The guys that are making the decisions are in Minnesota. I’ll be watching the ticker like you guys,” Boudreau said.
Kuemper admitted he didn’t feel the greatest in net all game today and just tried to battle through it. He wasn’t saying he didn’t feel well, like he was sick. He just never felt comfortable.
For the first time this season, Bruce Boudreau pulled a goalie – the last in the NHL to do so.
Boudreau said the game was too quick for Kuemper, and after he gave up two goals in less than two minutes, including a tying goal by Mark Scheifele, he didn’t think Kuemper could withstand the rest of the game.
Exact quote: “I just thought the game was getting pretty quick for Kuemps out there. Didn’t want to pull him after that [fluky] fourth goal, but once the fifth goal came, he was pretty rattled. I didn’t know if he would be able to withstand the rest of the game.”
Asked if that concerns him since Kuemper has unraveled before, Boudreau said, “First time I’ve ever seen him get rattled. But we had about 14 other players get rattled all night long, too.”
Devan Dubnyk came in and played the final 8:43, and it was a good thing. Tyler Graovac and Nino Niederreiter took penalties 2:39 apart in the final 6:49. The Wild and Dubnyk not only killed both, Zucker scored his 20th goal for the winner.
The Wild improved to 19-6-5 on the road, 15-1-1 in its past 17 games and the Western Conference leaders with the most goals in the conference put home another half-dozen goals.
Granlund, Graovac, Haula, Scandella, Ryan White (again) and Zucker scored the goals. Martin Hanzal had two assists – his first two points not in a Coyote uniform of his career, as did Chris Stewart.
Granlund now leads the Wild with 15 multi-point games, leads the NHL with 45 points since Dec. 7 and ranks 10th in the NHL with 59 points in 61 games.
He has already established single-season career-highs in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, power-play assists, power-play points, shorthanded goals and multi-point games.
But Boudreau was hardly pleased with the game. His face was redder than his tie after the game.
“We weren’t very good … at all. We got lucky. One of those games you got lucky,” he said. “Even when you’re playing bad, if bounces aren’t going for you, if you keep the right structure, things usually work out. On the power play, we change from doing what we normally do to being fancy and you can see it turning.”
Boudreau said the penalty kill and Hanzal’s game were the two bright spots.
Some other quotes:
Haula on the game-winner: “I saw they were pretty deep, and I saw Marco had a little time. And I figured he was going to get it out. And I just read the play kind of a little bit. And I heard Zucks and kind of saw him, and (garbled). It worked out.”
On Suter’s injury: “Gotta give credit to the d-men. I mean it wasn’t easy for them – they got hit probably a hundred and fifty times. And I mean like we said in here, we found a way to win, and there’s obviously a lot of things that we can work on, you know, defensively. But we’re happy we got the win and now we move on.
Zucker on the game-winner: “Yeah, I mean I don’t think they realized that I changed there. So I was able to be in late. Great pass. Great pass by Haulzy. Just tried to make a move, and get a shot on net. … Backhand, no-look, through two guys. That’s an unbelievable pass.”
On all the excuses that could be used for melting down, Zucker said, “I mean that’s not an excuse for us. We had that game, and we gave it back to them, we let them back in the game too many times. We left Kuemps out to dry too many times. I think we even left Duby out to dry a couple times. He made a couple saves. But, that’s not the way we want to play. But, we’re happy to come away with two points.”
On finding a way to win: “I think that shows the resiliency of our group. But, like I said, that’s not going to fly when it comes to playoff time. We have to shore that up. And I’m sure we’re going to watch some video tomorrow, and make sure that we’re getting better. But we can’t use that as an excuse, missing a few guys, because you never know what happens. I mean last year we didn’t have Zach the whole playoffs. So, if anything like that happens you gotta make sure you’re playing your game still, and don’t stray from that at all.”
Kuemper said, “You know, it’s just one of those games where you know you’re not feeling your best and you’re doing your best to battle through it. And then you get some of the bounces that happened and just nothing’s going your way. And I tried my best to battle through it, but just, I was so relieved to see them score. Just for us to get the win. What a relief that was.”
On not feeling his best, he said, “Well you know there’s games where you’re on and there’s games where you know you have to work a little bit harder to find it, and fight it off, and tonight was one of those nights. Maybe it was first game back from the break, or whatever – I don’t want to make excuses for it. I tried my best to fight through it, and like I said, you get a goal like the fourth one (puck hit a stanchion and caromed back into the crease and deflected in off his back) and it just….bizarro night and just happy we won.”
Granlund said, “We know we need to better. At the same time, we got two points again. That’s a good result getting out of this stuff. Things happen to every single team. You’ve just got to overcome those. We got the win without those guys.”
On his roll, he said, “It’s fun. Every single game, you know you’re playing with good players. We work hard and we’ve been getting results.”
OK, I have a wakeup call in four hours and need to find a cab.