It wasn’t one of the splashy trades executed before the deadline expired Monday, but no one in the NHL might be reaping more out of a recent tweak to its lineup than the Wild is from the decision to unite center Eric Staal with wingers Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund.
That trio was magnificent yet again, with a hat trick from Staal headlining an 8-3 rout of the Blues on Tuesday night in front of 19,261 at Xcel Energy Center that tied the franchise record for goals and extended the Wild’s win streak to a season-best five games.
“Our line was buzzing,” Staal said. “We were feeling it.”
Staal assisted on two others, racking up a season-high five points. Zucker had a career-high five points, a goal and four assists, while Granlund scored twice and added two assists — this after Staal scored the game-tying goal Sunday and Zucker set up the overtime winner against the Sharks.
In the game before that, when the line was formed, it created all the offense in a 4-1 victory over the Rangers on Friday.
Overall, at least one of the three has had a hand in 13 of the Wild’s past 15 goals — a whopping 87 percent — and the three have combined for 26 points in the past three games.
“We’re just trying to pressure and skate, and pressure their D when we can,” Zucker said. “Get pucks to the net and when there’s time to make plays, we’re trying to do that as well. Right now, it just seems to be working.”
The unit chipped in its first only 2 minutes, 57 seconds after puck drop on a redirect by Zucker on the power play. At 7:13, the line capitalized again when Granlund got a piece of a Staal shot.
But the Blues, who had been blanked in their past two games and lost six in a row, fought back.
Winger Vladimir Tarasenko stopped the team’s shutout streak at 150:23 when he wristed a shot by goalie Devan Dubnyk with 10:01 remaining in the first. Dubnyk totaled 22 saves.
After Granlund batted the puck out of midair at 11:17 for his second goal, the Blues moved within one again only 15 seconds into the second on captain Alex Pietrangelo’s shot.
Goals from Staal on the power play at 8:19 and captain Mikko Koivu with 2:53 to go in the second upped the Wild’s cushion. St. Louis, however, attempted another rally with a power-play goal from Tarasenko at 18:32; the Blues finished 1-for-6 with the man advantage, and the Wild was 2-for-6.
St. Louis’ comeback bid, however, was snuffed out with 15 seconds left when defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s shot sneaked through traffic. Two more goals from Staal, at 7:46 and 10:54 of the third, only accented the thrashing that maintained the Wild’s three-point lead over the Stars for the No. 3 seed in the Central Division.
“At this stage, [Staal is] one of the main reasons we are where we are,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Hats rained down on the ice after Staal’s second tally, because Granlund’s first goal was initially credited to Staal, but he teed up an accurate encore when he officially secured his 14th career hat trick.
His 33 goals are tied for third most in the NHL and in his past five games, the league’s reigning first star of the week has seven goals and 12 points.
“I just want to contribute and be a difference-maker to help us win,” Staal said. “I’ve been able to do that so far, and hopefully that continues.”