In a few months, if the Wild winds up playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, it should petition the NHL to play outside.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, a team that has ended the Wild’s season the past three postseasons, were thoroughly ambushed at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon during a 6-1 romp before an announced 50,426 that extended the Wild’s winning streak to a season-best four games.
The Wild, which hasn’t won at Xcel Energy Center since Dec. 28, technically ended an eight-game home winless streak by becoming only the fifth home team to win in 17 NHL outdoor games.
“It was a tough start and it didn’t slow down,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “They were much more ready to start, way more intensity, way more urgency, way stronger in the puck area.”
The Wild, which has had an overnight attitude adjustment since its eighth consecutive loss cost Mike Yeo his job Feb. 13, improved to 4-0 under interim coach John Torchetti. More astonishingly, the Wild has scored 21 goals in 12 periods under “Torch” (5.25 goals per game). The Wild scored 22 goals in Yeo’s final 12 games.
“This is about confidence and [Torchetti] gave everyone a restart and a reset button, and you see it in our game. We’re scoring goals, we’re getting leads and we’re not afraid to hold the lead and keep going after it,” said Thomas Vanek, whose first-period goal on the power play amounted to his second consecutive game-winner. It came 200 yards from Mariucci Arena, where Vanek starred for the Gophers in college.
On a 35-degree overcast day that included a few snow flurries early that added to the wonderful pageantry of the first NHL outdoor game in Minnesota history, the Wild put on a show for the enthusiastic crowd.
Jason Pominville, whose new life since Yeo was dismissed is symbolic of the entire team, continued his terrific play of late with a goal and two assists. Linemates Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula combined for five points, with Haula awarded a late goal after being hauled down with Chicago’s net empty.
“Torch said that will be the easiest goal I’ll ever score, and I’ll take it,” said Haula, who had a career-high three points and has multipoint games in his four of his past seven games.
Defenseman Matt Dumba scored the game’s first goal 3 minutes, 25 seconds in, and he also drew a power play that led to Vanek’s score and a 2-0 Wild lead.
“To get that first one was just overwhelming excitement, but we channeled it in the right direction and came back shift on top of shift,” Dumba said.
Ryan Carter, the pride of White Bear Lake, had a monster game with a goal, an assist, two penalties sticking up for goalie Devan Dubnyk and a game-high six shots.
“Being back home and the setting was kind of set when the snow flew in the first,” Carter said. “I look up in the stands, there’s a group of White Bear jerseys, too. Then, you hear the band playing and it brings you back to your college days [at Minnesota State Mankato] a little bit.
“It was kind of like a time warp through my career and into pro hockey. And in the third there, we got up, what was it, 5-0, 6-1, and I sat back and said, ‘This is pretty cool. This is pretty neat.’ ”
For a fourth consecutive game under Torchetti, the Wild was the faster, more energetic team. As players have said for a week, Torchetti’s intensity and vigor have been contagious. He wants the team “attacking the net” and being “the hardest-working team every night.”
“I like where we’re at right now,” said Ryan Suter, a plus-3 with defense partner Jared Spurgeon.
The Wild never let its foot off the gas but also made sure to soak up the atmosphere.
“You can see why football players get fired up running out on the field,” said Dubnyk, who made 31 saves for his third consecutive victory after a personal nine-game slide.
Added Pominville: “You’re caught in awe. … There’s fireworks. The plane [flyover]. Everything’s just great. It’s a treat to be able to play in one of these. They never get old.”
Especially when you win.
“This day’s only fun if you win, and we did,” Vanek said.