After struggling to close in three games at the NHL Prospect tournament, the Wild finished in grand style on Tuesday.
Minnesota scored three third-period goals, including two in the final minute, to finish on a high note with a 3-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh-place game at Traverse City, Mich.
Two of the Wild’s three defeats were virtual one-goal losses. Following one at the hands of the New York Rangers on Monday, a game in which the Rangers scored the winning goal in the final minute of regulation, Iowa coach Derek Lalonde said his team desperately needed to find a way to come out on the other end in the tournament finale.
The Wild took his point literally.
With the score tied at 1-1 with under a minute to play, Alex Tuch scored the game-winner after an initial shot from the point hit traffic in front of Blackhawks goaltender Brent Moran and deflected right to the stick of the Wild’s power forward. His second-chance shot got through the bodies in front for his second goal of the tournament.
“It’s a credit to the guys, the fact that [Chicago] got that first goal in the third,” Lalonde said. “We had a nice little push after that and found a way to tie it. We were the ones with the opportunistic goal at the end.”
The goal came one second after a tripping penalty on Chicago’s Radovan Bondra had expired. It didn’t go down as a power-play goal, but Minnesota’s man-advantage unit again played a big part in setting it up. The Wild went 1-for-11 with the extra attacker in the tournament, but Lalonde was pleased with the pressure it applied.
“The power play was sharp the entire tournament and it’s not easy in a short tournament, having chemistry and having the power play sharp,” Lalonde said. “It’s a credit to [assistant coach] David Cunniff. In a short tournament like that, he’s running the power play and the fact that it was detailed in its entries and setting up. I’m glad [the players] were rewarded, too.”
Alex Petan added an empty-net goal with 0.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
Christoph Bertschy also scored for the Wild, tying the game at 1-1 with 7:15 left in regulation.
Goaltender Adam Vay was fantastic, making 26 saves, including one on a shorthanded breakaway to keep the game tied moments before Tuch’s winner.
Minnesota, which allowed 24 goals in four games in this same tournament last season, allowed nine goals this year, including one empty-netter.
“Our goaltending was excellent from start to finish,” Lalonde said. “Not only did they perform well and play well every night, they just had a confidence about them, a sharpness about them. They controlled rebounds and certainly brought some confidence around our team.”
The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 41-27 for the game and peppered Moran with 18 shots in the defining third period.
“We probably deserved a better fate than going 1-3,” Lalonde said. “… We went perfect on the penalty kill and the power play was good. We did a lot of good things.”