It’s not often the Pittsburgh Penguins are ripe for the picking.
They’re a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, but after the Boston Bruins clinched first place in the Eastern Conference earlier Saturday, the Penguins, locked in second, officially had nothing to play for anymore.
The Wild? It has everything to play for. It’s vying to secure the top wild-card spot in the West and make the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Both teams played as such Saturday night.
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins’ give-a-darn meter looked about zero and the Wild came out desperate and hungry at home during a convincing 4-0 victory, the team’s 40th of the season. It came in front of a crowd of 19,409, the largest in Wild history.
“They’re a dangerous team. They can put up five on you in a blink of an eye,” said Zach Parise, who assisted on two goals to eclipse 500 points in his career. “Regardless whether they had something to play for or not, we did. We did our job.”
The Wild lit up backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who was 12-3-1 in his past 16 appearances. Hustling, speedy rookie Erik Haula got the party started with the first goal of the game (ultimately his first career winning goal).
Cody McCormick, acquired March 5 in the trade from Buffalo with Matt Moulson, scored his first goal and assist with the Wild. Mikko Koivu and Stephane Veilleux each scored goals and Charlie Coyle assisted on two.
Defense partners Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon were each plus-3 and Ilya Bryzgalov (5-0-3 with a 1.87 goals-against average with the Wild) made 20 saves for his second shutout in eight starts and 33rd of his career.
“The whole game, the team was playing unbelievable,” said Bryzgalov, whose sprawling paddle save to deny James Neal preserved a 3-0 lead early in the second period. “They did a tremendous job. They limited their best players’ time and space.”
Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer with 102 points, was held shotless for the second time this season and 23rd time in his career.
Wild coach Mike Yeo, the former Penguins’ assistant, met with the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine line Saturday morning and gave them the “Sid The Kid” assignment. Yeo wanted to challenge the line but also lessen the defensive burden on the Parise-Koivu-Coyle line.
“That checking line did such a good job staying above [Crosby] when he had the puck,” Parise said.
With four games left, the Wild’s magic number to make the playoffs is three points. The Dallas Stars, who visit Florida on Sunday, sit five points back with a game in hand. Ninth-place Phoenix is six back.
The Wild’s objective Saturday was to reestablish strong play on home ice. The Wild, 6-3-2 on the road since the Olympics, had lost five of its previous six at home (1-2-3). The Wild took control early with its first three-goal opening period since Dec. 27.
“We had a little bit of a hiccup at home, but we were excited to get back here and play here and we came out with probably the ideal start,” Parise said.
The Wild got great play from the Veilleux-McCormick-Nino Niederreiter fourth line. They were physical all game and were rewarded with two goals.
“That’s the way we prefer them to defend,” Yeo said of their physicality in the offensive zone.
McCormick’s goal came after he stayed on for a long shift (Koivu missed his shift) and was the beneficiary of a strong forecheck by Parise and Coyle.
It was a nice response by McCormick, who was scratched in five of the past seven games.
“When you’re sitting out, you’re making sure you can do what you can to get back in the lineup and be able to contribute. You don’t pout,” he said.