They can’t all be works of art — and Monday’s game was certainly not that. The Wild wasn’t at its best in a sometimes-choppy game against the Calgary Flames.
But it doesn’t matter.
The Wild keeps winning and, quite frankly, couldn’t have scripted the way it has come out of the Olympic break better.
Three games, three wins, the latest being a grind-it-out 3-2 victory that was the Wild’s fifth in a row to extend the NHL’s longest active winning streak.
“To stack wins right now is important and build as much gap as we can because it’s not going to get any easier,” veteran Matt Cooke said.
The Wild, which had to win its season finale last year to make the playoffs, is 14-4-2 in 2014, 9-2-2 in its past 13 games and has a nine-point cushion in the playoff race with 20 games left.
“The cushion to me is nothing,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s not about where the people are behind you. To me, it’s much more a race of what you need to get to. And we have to make sure we keep pushing to get to the number of points we need to get [in].”
Kyle Brodziak and Mike Cammalleri exchanged second-period goals before Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise scored in the third. Mikael Granlund assisted on both of those, and Darcy Kuemper, 11-2-2 since Jan. 7 and making his 15th straight start, made 21 saves for his fifth consecutive win (six goals allowed).
Kuemper, named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week on Monday, played in front of his parents, Saskatoon residents Sharon and Brent, for the first time in Minnesota.
“They actually came to the game in Calgary that we lost in overtime [on Feb. 1], so it was good that we could beat them this time,” Kuemper said.
Captain Mikko Koivu returned to the lineup for the first time in eight weeks. He was minus-1 and had no shots, but he won 10 of 17 faceoffs and showed glimpses of strong play, especially on a second-period power play.
“I was more nervous than I even told you guys,” Koivu said. “I missed a long time. I wasn’t sure how it was going to react in a game. … More games and more practice, I should get better.”
The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead after a goof-up by goalie Reto Berra. Berra stopped Marco Scandella’s dump-in behind the net, and then froze. Cooke swarmed and knocked the puck loose. Brodziak scooped it up, evaded defenseman Kris Russell and popped it high into a wide-open net.
“I couldn’t believe he held onto it as long as he did,” Cooke said. “We try to forecheck the goalie as if he’s a defenseman. Both of their defensemen went to him, so he didn’t have a place to play it. Free puck for me.”
Cammalleri tied it on a goal Kuemper had no shot to stop, but in the third, Parise’s hustle drew a penalty. On the ensuing power play, Spurgeon squeezed a wrist shot through two penalty killers and past Charlie Coyle’s screen for a 2-1 lead.
“I could see a bit of net and I couldn’t see the goalie, so I just threw it there,” Spurgeon said.
Nine minutes later, the Parise-Granlund-Pominville line struck for the eventual game-winner, Parise’s 21st goal of the season.
“We played in spurts,” Parise said. “Couple decent shifts but nothing great. We finally strung a good one together in the third and were able to pop one in.”
It was the Wild’s final game before Wednesday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline. It doesn’t play again until Saturday in Dallas, so two points before a four-day respite were important.
“This is an opportunity,” Cooke said. “This is our last real practice time before we’re in the playoffs. We’re going to have to work and be ready to continue what we’ve built.”