DETROIT – As the seconds dripped off the scoreboard in the waning minutes of the third period while the Wild clung to a one-goal lead, youngsters Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin were ushered onto the ice to hold off the Red Wings.
It looked like a preview of the future, but the scene is very much a reality of the present — and one that could become more predominant if the team loses more experience ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
And after the 22-and-under crowd helped set up and seal an eventual 3-2 win Friday in front of an announced 19,515 at Little Caesars Arena — for a two-game road sweep that signaled back-to-back victories for the first time since Jan.21-23 — the up-and-comers are ready for that challenge.
“All of us feel the same way,” Kunin said. “We want to do everything we can to help this team be successful, and the more the better, for sure.”
Kunin, the youngest on the Wild at 21 years old, had a goal and assist, while Greenway, Eriksson Ek and newcomer Ryan Donato — all 22 — each tallied a point.
Add in 26 saves from goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was back in the crease after his 4-1 win over the Rangers the night before, and the Wild remained in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“These guys are our life force,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Wild’s youth, “and they’re going to drive this organization for a few years.”
After chipping in a goal and two assists in the slump-busting win Thursday, the foursome was even better against Detroit.
Kunin opened the scoring 16 minutes, 56 seconds into the first period on a terrific sequence by his line with Donato and Eriksson Ek. After Donato split the Red Wings defense, he funneled it along the boards, from where Eriksson Ek swept the puck to the front of the net, where Kunin was there to bury it past goalie Jonathan Bernier.
It was Kunin’s eighth point in his past 10 games, while Donato earned his third assist in two games after joining the Wild on Wednesday in a trade that sent Charlie Coyle to Boston.
“We’re all working hard, and things are clicking right now,” Kunin said.
With 1:07 to go in the first, Greenway fired a blistering shot past Bernier’s glove. It was Greenway’s second goal in as many games and 11th on the season, which is tied for the fourth-most in franchise history for a rookie.
“If I didn’t put that one in,” Greenway said, “I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight.”
Tyler Bertuzzi beat Dubnyk 1:35 into the second on a deflection, but the Wild’s power play responded at 10:09 when center Eric Staal put back a loose puck for his first goal in 12 games — a finish that merited a spirited celebration. The unit went 1-for-3.
“It was nice to get a little break there in front and see one hit the back of the net,” Staal said.
Detroit again moved within a goal on a one-timer by winger Anthony Mantha on the power play, the Red Wings’ lone tally in three tries and the 17th given up by the Wild’s penalty killers in the past 15 games.
But the Wild held on the rest of the way, with help from the 20-somethings.
“Shows the trust the coaches have in us,” Kunin said, “and we’ve got to do the work and do the right things out there to keep that.”