Before Sunday night’s Northwest Division clash between the Wild and Vancouver Canucks, coach Mike Yeo reminded, “They’re not handing out first prize in our division tonight.”
Too bad. The Wild played with the type of fire that made it seem a banner-raising was up for grabs. Instead, the Wild merely settled for taking over first place in the division with a 4-2 victory over its detested rival.
“These guys, it seems like they have had a stranglehold on this division for a long time,” Zach Parise, who scored two goals and an assist, said of the Canucks. “I think we want to show that we can be up there, too.”
The Wild hit the season’s halfway mark with a 13-9-2 record and impressive road/home wins on consecutive nights. Jared Spurgeon scored a goal and assist, Jason Zucker scored a goal, Ryan Suter assisted on two and Niklas Backstrom made 25 saves to get the personal back-to-back sweep.
The Wild, 9-2-1 at home, was bestowed with several rousing ovations from its appreciative fans. The Wild’s work ethic, especially when one considers it got back from its win at Nashville in the wee hours of Sunday morning, was visible. Sweat poured off players during an action-packed, physical, intense affair.
“Our guys were ready for this one,” said Yeo, who was clearly confident before the game. “We feel we’re a team that is on the up.”
Sixty-two seconds into the third, things got hairy when the Wild’s once-3-0 lead became 3-2 after Henrik Sedin lucked into the type of fluky goal that Backstrom has been victimized on a lot lately.
But Parise responded 5:27 later following a spectacular shift by rookie Charlie Coyle, who single-handedly allowed the Wild to execute a line change.
Deep in the offensive zone, Coyle held on to the puck as Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison sandwiched him. Hamhuis fell.
“I don’t know how I stayed up,” Coyle said. “I was surprised the puck was still there. I just looked and was like, ‘OK.’ ”
Coyle then evaded Mason Raymond, then Jannik Hansen. The forecheck was on. A few good cycles later, Coyle muscled through Jordan Schroeder and passed to Ryan Suter, who set up Parise’s 11th goal and a big sigh of relief for the Wild and its fans.
“It’s the old cliché, you bend, but don’t break. We did that a few times,” Parise said.
Yeo vowed before the game that “we’re ready to put a lot on the line tonight.” The Wild, with points in 10 of its past 15 games (9-4-1), had something to prove against a high-quality team that had beaten Minnesota twice.
The Wild’s fire was displayed 24 seconds in when Mikko Koivu set up Parise. The rest of the period featured catch-your-breath action at both ends, hard hits and downright nastiness.
It started, fittingly enough, with 9:11 left when longtime Canucks agitator Alex Burrows slashed Koivu across the leg. An intense, stick-jostling duel led to 10 skaters converging and mayhem ensuing. Less than a minute later, the Wild’s Mike Rupp and Tom Sestito had a heavyweight bout. At one point, five Wild players crammed into the penalty box.
“I loved the way we started the game,” Yeo said. “A couple guys were going at our captain, and our guys responded.”
Zucker and Matt Cullen teamed beautifully for Zucker’s fourth goal before Suter extended his point streak to seven games by setting up Spurgeon for the Wild’s sixth power-play goal in seven games.
“The response from us on back-to-back nights, it’s never easy to get four points from two tough games, so this should give us confidence,” Koivu said.