The floodgate was bound to open eventually if the Wild kept outchancing its opponents so dramatically. On Saturday night, the Wild forced that river fast and furiously yet again in one direction, and the dam finally broke.
After scoring nine goals in its first four games despite tilting the ice for long stretches, the Wild put up a five-spot against the Dallas Stars to take a 5-1 victory and sweep its two-game homestand.
“If you’re going to double up teams on shots night in and night out and outshoot teams by 10-plus shots, they’re bound to go in,” said forward Justin Fontaine, who knows especially.
That’s because Fontaine and fellow rookie Matt Dumba both scored their first NHL goals; Nino Niederreiter — looking like a keeper on the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu line — had another strong game and was rewarded with his first goal in a Wild sweater; Parise scored his team-leading fourth; and Matt Cooke — dare we say becoming a fan favorite — potted his third in five games, his second consecutive winning goal and second consecutive two-point game.
Fontaine, the University of Minnesota Duluth product, scored 12 seconds in to establish a Wild record for fastest goal to start a game, besting teammate Dany Heatley’s 2012 record by a second.
“That’s a good way to start a night,” Fontaine said.
Told he broke a team record, Fontaine said, “I’d take [my first goal] no matter what way I got it, but that’s sweet.”
For the second consecutive game with Niklas Backstrom out with a knee injury, Josh Harding was barely tested but looked sound in net as he stopped 18 shots for his second consecutive victory.
The Wild outshot the Stars 36-19 and has outshot opponents 162-107 this season. The 2-1-2 Wild, which now hits the road for four, is allowing a league-low 21.4 shots per game.
“Tonight was a step in the right direction,” Cooke said. “Our young guys getting on the board and chipping in and our older guys leading the way, playing the right way; that was our first full 60-minute game.”
The game couldn’t have started better for the Wild. Cooke picked off defenseman Brenden Dillon’s errant pass and fed Fontaine below him. The 2011 college free-agent pickup, who won a national championship on the very same ice, whipped a backhand underneath Stars backup goalie Dan Ellis.
Ellis was then victimized the rest of the period by his teammates. They continually coughed up pucks, the most blatant coming when former Gopher Alex Goligoski handed it to Cooke behind the net.
A nanosecond later, Cooke scored. In five games with the Wild, the former Vancouver Canuck has three goals and five points and has made other impacts defensively, physically and by drawing penalties. He has yet to take a penalty.
More impressive, the Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Fontaine line went head-to-head all night with the Dallas top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, which lit up Winnipeg the night before. The line went minus-2. “I let them know [Saturday morning] they were on that task, and they wanted it,” Coach Mike Yeo said.
From there, the Wild continued to pressure and turned a 2-0 lead into a 4-1 lead during a fifth consecutive one-sided second period.
Heatley was dropped to the second power-play unit and there were immediate dividends. He crossed a perfect pass and the teenage Dumba roofed his first goal. “I was fortunate to shoot into the top half of the net,” Dumba said.
Fontaine and Dumba became the fourth set of Wild players to score their first NHL goals in the same game. The last to do so was John Scott and Robbie Earl in 2009.
Just 2:20 later, Niederreiter, the former Islander, squeaked his third career goal just inside the post.
“We’re relying a lot on these young kids,” Yeo said. “ … Their teammates are gaining more and more confidence in these guys.”