The result would have counted the same if the Wild clung to a one-goal lead until regulation expired or squeezed by the Jets in overtime.
But uncorking the best offensive showing of the series and pulling away for an assertive 6-2 win in Game 3 Sunday after getting stymied in Winnipeg seems like it could stoke the team’s confidence more than a narrow victory might have.
If so, perhaps that’s just the lift the Wild needs to even the series at two in Game 4 Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
“You hope so,” center Eric Staal said. “But at the same time, it’s a win. It’s playoffs. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. It’s first to four, and they have two still. So we have to play that same urgency and energy and excitement for [Game 4] and make sure that we get the job done because it’s another huge test for us. We gotta try and get it done.”
Wild players realized they had to be better after their attempts to get up ice stalled at the start of the series, and coach Bruce Boudreau promised adjustments to help them improve.
Neither was lip service.
Outlet passes for the defense were easier to identify with better support in the middle from the forwards, and that cohesiveness continued through the neutral zone and into the Jets’ end.
This helped the Wild transition with speed, which in turn sparked its forecheck since it was no longer having to chip and chase — fruitless battles the Wild had minimal chance of winning with the Jets defense having the edge in positioning.
And that jump in offensive-zone time led to the increase in production the Wild needed after scoring only three times through Games 1 and 2.
“It just gives everyone, our offensive players that were having some struggles, confidence now, and we’re just hoping to keep it rolling,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “I think this is a team where things are going well, it tends to go well for a while. Our top two lines were phenomenal last game. Everyone played great, but you could just see those guys had a lot of fire last game and it showed out there.”
Goals from Staal and wingers Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund were an encouraging development, especially after Staal and Granlund combined for only five shots in Winnipeg. But six different goal scorers capitalized, one from each line, and that depth could come in handy as the series progresses.
“You need it in the playoffs,” Staal said. “You need different people at different times to step up and contribute, and we had a lot of that in our lineup [Sunday] night and that has to continue.”
While the Wild certainly established a blueprint for combating the Jets on Sunday, the belief is it’ll have to make revisions to stage an encore of the same impact. Winnipeg felt its speed sagged all over the ice, so adapting to a quicker style could be key for the Wild if the Jets elevate the pace.
“They are going to play better guaranteed, and I know we’re going to have to play better if we want to win,” Boudreau said. “There’s no way we can play and do what we did [Sunday] and come out on top. We have to be better because they’ll be a better team.”
The Wild didn’t limp to victory. It overcame adversity, converted on the opportunities it should have and flashed its relentlessness to chase a playoff rookie from the crease.
Basically, it stuck to the script that has headlined its season as a team whose skill is mined from its persistence.
“They know that we’re here,” rookie winger Jordan Greenway said. “We’re not here and just gonna let down. We’re here and we’re ready to keep going, and we’re gonna push back.”
Although the Wild was pegged as long shots against the Jets, players didn’t view themselves that way and this performance validated their confidence.
And that kind of proof can’t hurt as the Wild strives to avoid tripping into another lopsided hole.
“We showed what we knew already, that we’re a good team that’s capable of beating anybody,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “That’s a good feeling for us going forward, and we have to keep that going.”