ANAHEIM, CALIF. – A few hours before his 62nd birthday, Bruce Boudreau’s new team presented him with an early present at the Honda Center: a victory against his former team.
There’s little doubt Boudreau wanted this one against the Anaheim Ducks badly, and he got it courtesy of the 2-1 score the Wild coach has been begging for the past few days.
Standing on the visitors’ bench in his old barn in front of a sign held by a fan that read “Bruce Fan Club,” Boudreau watched the Wild rally from a 1-0 deficit, tighten up defensively and stave off a third-period push by the team he guided to four straight division titles before losing his job in April.
“When you win it’s easy to face the questions,” said Boudreau, peppered by interrogators about his return for a week. “It’s always nice the first time because it becomes more normal every time after that. Your players know you want to win, so it was nice to see them play as well as they did.”
Defensemen Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon scored 1 minute, 42 seconds apart in the second period and Devan Dubnyk rebounded from a string of rough starts, making 23 saves. The Wild, which blew a 2-0 lead and lost in overtime the day before in Los Angeles, extended its road point streak to 10 games (8-0-2), the second longest in franchise history.
“It was nice not to give up four,” deadpanned Dubnyk, who had done just that in three straight starts, something the Wild had done in five of its previous six games.
But the Wild gave up just seven shots in the first period, had a 24-13 shot edge through two periods and finished with a 36-24 shots advantage. Dubnyk was especially unwavering late, and Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu blocked shots in front of him in the final minute.
“We didn’t feel good after the game in L.A.,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who responded from a rare off night during 29:41 of ice time. “We knew we had to be better. We came out and played the right way tonight. We [battened] down the hatches.”
The Wild won the special teams battle, killing three power plays in a row at one point, including two in the middle frame. The lone time the Wild really allowed Anaheim to come with speed in the first two periods, Ryan Kesler scored on a rebound.
But the veteran was hardly happy with the Ducks’ second period.
“We need to be professional and prepare ourselves,” Kesler said. “We gave this one away tonight. It’s not a good feeling.”
Jordan Schroeder and Parise drew back-to-back penalties, and Parise teed up Dumba’s rocket on a two-man advantage for the tying goal, the ninth time in 11 games the Wild power play has converted.
Then, just 23 seconds after the second penalty expired, Jason Pominville set up Spurgeon, who fired through Jason Zucker’s screen while Pominville drove to the net.
The Wild is 10-5-1 when its opponent scores first, a record that was a league-worst 5-25-6 last season. Eric Staal had eight shots. Pominville had 10 shot attempts, Suter eight and Nino Niederreiter seven.
Boudreau, who hadn’t stepped foot in Honda Center’s visitors’ locker room since his days coaching Washington, left the rink feeling good about himself and his team.
The Wild is two points behind Chicago for the Central Division lead with four games in hand. It has a conference-best .705 points percentage through 39 games. It has snagged points in 20 of 22 games (16-2-4) since Nov. 21 and responded from seeing its 12-game winning streak end to Columbus by going 2-0-1 on the California trip.
Boudreau will get to enjoy a day off Monday to celebrate his birthday.
“I’m a young 62 … with a mental capacity of around 9,” he joked.
The Wild knew how much he wanted to leave victorious.
“He’s candid, and he’s emotional,” Dubnyk said. “He’s a human being. You can tell this game meant a lot to him, and it meant a lot to us as well. So it was nice to get this one for him.”