SAN JOSE, Calif. – In just seconds, defenseman Nate Prosser went from the trailer on a shorthanded rush to being swarmed by five Kings players as the lone Wild attacker.
Rather than retreat, Prosser cut through Los Angeles’ defense before sending the puck by goalie Jonathan Quick’s right side as he slid left — the tying goal that erased a two-goal, third-period deficit for the Wild on Thursday.
“Kind of surprised myself a little bit,” Prosser said. “But it was just one of those spots where as a ‘D’ core we want to try to jump in when it’s necessary. We’re down a goal, and I saw an opening and kind of just took it.”
Since Ryan Suter was subtracted from the blue line by a season-ending right ankle fracture suffered a week ago, the spotlight has focused on how the Wild’s retooled defense will hold up without him — especially with a first-round playoff series with the offensively potent Jets looming.
But Suter didn’t just impact the Wild with his play in his own end. He was also one of the team’s top point producers.
And while the unit will have one more run-through Saturday in the Wild’s regular-season finale against the Sharks to solidify the simple style it wants to play defensively after starting 1-1-1, the blue line has already showed signs of picking up the slack offensively in Suter’s absence.
“That mentality stays the same with Ryan in the lineup or not,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “As D-men, we’re trying to build our trust with our forwards that if they kick it up high, we’re going to get our shots through.”
Prosser’s goal was the third scored by the back end in the 5-4 overtime loss to the Kings and fourth of eight racked up by Wild defensemen in three games without Suter. Overall, defensemen have accumulated eight points in that span, and at least one has had a hand in all but two goals.
“You need that,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “I think today’s game, the defense has to be involved with the offensive play and they gotta be able to help — not just in the ‘O’ zone but breaking out and winning the puck at the right spot and things like that. So we’re going to need that, and they’ve been good so far.”
The newly crowned top pairing of Jonas Brodin and Dumba has been particularly involved. Brodin has three helpers in his past four games and is one point shy of 100 for his career. And Dumba is in the midst of a career season, as his 14 goals, 35 assists and 49 points are the most he’s recorded.
“Just taking it one game at a time really,” he said. “I haven’t really focused on the points I’ve actually been collecting. It’s kind of nice when you look at it now.”
Two of Dumba’s past three goals have come on the power play, an area where he seems primed to help fill Suter’s void because of his ability to man the point and the quickness with which he releases his one-timer — a shot that eluded Quick and Ducks goalie Ryan Miller on this road trip.
“Dumba’s always been a big part of the power play,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Getting contributions from the defense should only help the Wild in its matchup with the Jets, a group that averages more goals per game (3.32) than all but one team in the NHL.
What’s more, if the defense is playing offense, that means the Jets’ threat is minimized because they don’t have the puck.
Clearly, though, a strong performance in front of goalie Devan Dubnyk is needed. The blue line was airtight in its first test, a 3-0 shutout of the Oilers, competitive in most of Game No. 2 against the Ducks and had mixed results in that extra-time defeat by the Kings.
Accentuating the positives from those games Saturday would earn the unit momentum on the brink of the playoffs, especially since its look is changing again.
Carson Soucy was returned to the American Hockey League on Friday but is likely to be back for the postseason. Louie Belpedio is slated to make his NHL debut against the Sharks, and Gustav Olofsson seems likely to suit up after meeting up with the team in San Jose following a four-game absence because of a concussion.
“We gotta make sure we get more consistent here, especially going into next week,” Prosser said. “We had a good third [period Thursday], and let’s have a good one in San Jose and go from there. We got the pieces here that we can do some damage.”