While he was celebrating yet another goal by raising his arms to the rafters, Wild winger Nino Niederreiter was also spinning like a top as he sat on the ice after taking a shove to the back.
His momentum stopped in front of linemate Eric Staal and when Niederreiter rose to his skates for a group hug after his second goal in a 5-4 win Wednesday over the Sabres, a layer of ice shavings covered his hockey pants.
This was nothing new for Niederreiter, who has scored all six of his goals during a career-best five-game goal streak from the hash marks on in — where bodies pile up like rush-hour traffic.
In fact, Niederreiter has been bumped en route to the net or knocked down once arriving there on all but two of the six goals. And he narrowly missed getting sandwiched on one of those, unleashing a sizzling one-timer before a pair of Flyers closed in on him to kick off this scoring parade.
“A lot of stuff happens right there, and I know I have to get there to be successful, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Niederreiter said. “It’s not going to work every night, but it’s nice when it does.”
Niederreiter seems to have a knack for being in situations that would appear to require him to deliver under pressure. He’s coming off a career year, at the outset of a brand-new lucrative contract and one of the most successful Swiss-born players to make it to the NHL.
But what may look like an intimidating spotlight is something else to Niedierreiter.
“As a player, you always want to get better and better every year,” he said.
After last season’s breakout performance in which Niederreiter established career highs in goals (25), assists (32) and points (57), he cemented his status as one of the Wild’s most dynamic offensive tools. And he was compensated as such, receiving a five-year, $26.25 million deal.
“It gives you confidence that the team believes in you,” he said. “… You gotta prove yourself, prove yourself back to management to make sure they didn’t do a bad decision on that deal.”
Niederreiter’s campaign stalled last month when he suffered a high left ankle sprain in Game No. 3, an injury that sidelined him for six games. Certain movements will still tweak it, but Niederreiter understands it’s going to take time to completely heal and that process doesn’t prohibit him from playing.
And it also doesn’t look like it’s prevented him from scoring, as evidenced by his recent tear — an outburst that has him at a higher goal-per-game clip (.533) than what he boasted through 15 games last season (.267).
What makes the production even more impressive is that it’s coming in front of the net, where hacks and whacks to the back and legs are the norm.
“You gotta find a way to create your own room, I guess,” said the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder. “The toughest thing is always getting into the inside, and I think I’m fortunate to be a fairly big guy to be strong enough to get in there.”
The 25-year-old also has a significant presence off the ice as one of the most prolific NHLers to come out of Switzerland, a trajectory that has positioned him as a role model and on the brink of a unique record.
Niederreiter is three goals shy of tying Mark Streit for the most NHL goals all-time by a Swiss player (96).
And he’ll probably go about chasing those tallies like he has many of the others — by reporting for duty where the cost of admission is steep but the reward is priceless.
“A lot of young kids get a chance to see there’s no limit,” Niederreiter said. “You can go all the way if you want to. It always depends on how hard you want to work and what your goal is and what is your dream.”