Sure only 59 seconds remained, but the Wild was so overjoyed to play with more than a one-goal lead after Mikael Granlund potted an empty-net goal Sunday night, teammates yelled for goalie Devan Dubnyk to aim for the empty net when St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock pulled Jake Allen for a second time.
“I can’t even shoot it when I’ve got it settled,” Dubnyk said. “We’ll save that for later.”
Believe it or not, the Wild is officially on a roll after a 3-1 victory over the Blues.
It has won four consecutive games for the first time this season and four in a row at home. It also has peeled points from nine of the past 10 games (6-1-3) to pull within two points of the Blues, who have played two more games, for second in the Central Division.
“I just think we’re getting more confident and comfortable in the style that we can play and the way Bruce [Boudreau] has set up our system to play,” said Eric Staal, who became the 13th active player to reach 800 points with an assist on Granlund’s game-sealer.
“It’s always good when you see results because it instills what you’re doing every day. Hopefully we keep this roll going because it’s huge to bank up points at home.”
Dubnyk, the NHL’s leader in goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.946), has allowed 16 even-strength goals in the past 18 games. He made 22 saves to improve to 6-0-2 in his past eight starts.
The victory ended a string of six consecutive one-goal games and 18 out of 26. The Wild, 9-3 at home and hosting Florida on Tuesday, finished in regulation for only the fifth time in 10 games.
It got second-period goals by Matt Dumba and Nino Niederreiter, and after Vladimir Tarasenko cut the deficit in half late in the period, the Wild surrendered only four third-period shots until Allen was pulled for an extra attacker.
“I thought that was our best third period of the year,” Boudreau said. “We had a one-goal lead, and I thought we didn’t give them anything. … I hope they’re starting to believe they’re a good team.”
The Wild, which had doused only 76 percent of opposing power plays the previous 16 games, held the NHL’s second-best road power play to no goals on three tries. Boudreau and defenseman Nate Prosser credited assistant coach Scott Stevens with a strong scouting report.
“They’re potent, but we did a good job getting in shooting and passing lanes and not getting cross-seamed,” said Prosser.
The Blues attempted 23 shots to the Wild’s 10 in the first period, but Dubnyk made 11 saves to allow Minnesota to escape the period scoreless. Dumba, who credited Kurtis Gabriel fighting Ryan Reaves for sparking the listless Wild late in the first, scored 45 seconds into the second on a knuckling puck. Then, Niederreiter circled the back of the net and all the way to atop the circles before unleashing a 2-0 lead with his eighth goal of the season and his ninth point in the past 10 games.
“I thought we got a little discouraged on the two quick goals,” Hitchcock said. “I just thought they controlled the puck the second half of the game. We didn’t start with it, we didn’t have it enough, we chased it, lost a lot of draws and they controlled it in the offensive zone.”
Staal, 32, was humbled to hit the 800-point milestone.
“Honestly, I’m hoping for a lot more as my career moves on,” he said. “But nonetheless, very grateful and honored to one, make the NHL and to play as long as I have, and to put up that kind of number is special. There is no way to do it on your own.”