CHICAGO – The loss of defenseman Jared Spurgeon to a groin strain last month put the spotlight squarely on the team’s blue line and whether it could withstand the absence of a top-pairing minute muncher.
But instead of exposing a weakness, the adversity uncovered better depth — an asset that was on display when Spurgeon made his return to the lineup Sunday against the Blackhawks after the team went 6-3 while he was sidelined.
“I wouldn’t have thought us going that route without him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
After missing nine games, Spurgeon didn’t resume his post on the No. 1 unit next to Ryan Suter. Matt Dumba held onto that spot, with Spurgeon filling out the second pairing alongside Jonas Brodin.
“There was a lot of thought, but I didn’t want to break up Dumba and Suts right now,” Boudreau explained. “I think it’s made Dumba a much better player.”
Keeping Suter and Spurgeon apart also enables Boudreau to employ two units in defensive situations, but Dumba has earned the promotion. During Spurgeon’s absence, Dumba scored four goals — two of which were overtime game-winners — and handled heavy minutes.
Some of Dumba’s offensive eagerness has come at the expense, though, of odd-man rushes the other way, a risk the Wild hopes to minimize without sacrificing Dumba’s creativity.
“He’s getting a little too excitable,” Boudreau said. “So we’ll have to rein in a little bit, but he’s the one guy on our defense that can do that thing. So we don’t want to stifle him from doing that.”
To make room for Spurgeon on the 23-man roster, as he was on injured reserve, the Wild assigned defenseman Ryan Murphy to Iowa of the American Hockey League Saturday.
Murphy played each game Spurgeon was out, giving the Wild steady minutes while chipping in a goal and assist.
Boudreau acknowledged Murphy’s status — he would have required to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors if he played one more game — as a reason why he was the odd man out. But with Mike Reilly facing the exact same scenario, Boudreau pointed out that Murphy is a right shot like Spurgeon, while Reilly is a lefty.
“Obviously, we like what we saw in Murph and we didn’t want to lose him,” Boudreau said. “So we think there’s a good chance at some point he’ll be back.”
Sunday was the Wild’s first trip back to United Center since its lineup was decimated by injury Oct. 12, with forwards Charlie Coyle (right fibula fracture), Nino Niederreiter (left ankle sprain) and Marcus Foligno (left facial fracture) all leaving the game. Even so, the Wild persevered to pull out a 5-2 win.
“We only had to go the last 10 minutes with eight forwards,” Boudreau recalled. “It wasn’t like we were going all night. I think we went 11 [forwards] and seven [defensemen] that night, and then you start getting injuries — it adds more to it. But it was one of those games where the players just banded together, and they refused to go down.”
That resiliency has popped up throughout the Wild’s season, and to Boudreau, it’s necessary to have success in today’s NHL.
“The parity is crazy,” he explained. “I told the players I think the hardest thing is not to win the Stanley Cup in this league. The hardest thing is to get in the playoffs because to get in the playoffs in our conference we have to beat basically 14 other teams. To win the Stanley Cup, you only have to beat four.”
• The Wild scratched Foligno for the second time in three games. Foligno has gone 20 games without registering a goal — managing just three assists in that span. “Maybe he’s overthinking things,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know. So we’ll have to re-evaluate and go from there.”
• Goalie Alex Stalock remained in net after playing Saturday against the Oilers. It was the first time in his NHL career he’s started back-to-back games.