WINNIPEG – The Wild is a whisker from its second consecutive postseason berth.
Twelve hours after playoff tickets went on sale in St. Paul, the Wild moved closer to the NHL’s second season by hanging on for a 1-0 victory over its rivals from the north, the Winnipeg Jets, on Monday night at MTS Centre.
“That was the definition of grinding it out,” said coach Mike Yeo, whose team defended hard and played with structure but struggled with execution all night.
Didn’t matter. Charlie Coyle’s goal 65 seconds into the second period held up because of the rock-solid goaltending of red-hot Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 24 saves for his second consecutive shutout, third in nine starts and 34th of his career.
Even though the Wild got off to a slow start and spent most the third period in the defensive zone, Bryzgalov, who is 6-0-3 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .929 save percentage with Minnesota, credited his teammates. They let him see shots, blocked shots and were positionally strong.
The Wild, the NHL’s fifth-best defensive team (2.35 goals allowed per game), allowed 26 shots or fewer for the eighth consecutive game.
“I’m not painting any pictures in front of myself,” said Bryzgalov, who will take his shutout streak of 142 minutes, 15 seconds into Tuesday’s start against the NHL-leading Boston Bruins. “I just go on the ice and play hard and try to give the team a chance to win.
“The guys are playing in front of me unbelievable. That’s the formula of success right now.”
The Wild’s magic number to make the playoffs is now one point. Its magic number to clinch the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference is two. With three games left, the Wild is seven points up on eighth-place Dallas and eight up on ninth-place Phoenix.
It would seem next to impossible for the Coyotes to catch the Wild.
The Wild would have to go 0-3 and the Coyotes would have to go 4-0 (with no shootout wins) and then make up what would seem to be an insurmountable goal-differential tiebreaker (plus-2 for Minnesota, minus-12 for Phoenix).
“We’re not there yet,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “This was kind of a trap game. They’re out of it. We’re not. Just another game that we had to win. It wasn’t pretty, but we kept it simple. But we need another win.”
The Bruins are 13-1-4 in their past 18 on the road. A point for the Wild or a loss by Phoenix in Columbus would clinch the fifth playoff berth in Wild history.
A few years back, when it was rumored that Phoenix, the team for which Bryzgalov played, might move to back Winnipeg, the goalie said he didn’t want to play there because “not many people live there, not many Russian people” live there, “plus it’s cold” and there are no parks.
In the third period, Jets fans began taunting him with the “Il-ya! Il-ya!” chant. Bryzgalov comically encouraged them back by raising his arms up and down.
“It’s become a good tradition every time I play here,” Bryzgalov said. “They start cheering my name and I want to show them with my hands to get louder.”
Yeo got a chuckle out of it, saying, “I was in the lunch line with him yesterday and I heard him doing the same chant.”
After a scoreless first, Coyle scored his fifth goal in nine games the instant a power play expired by one-timing Zach Parise’s pass. In five games and one period since Yeo reassembled the Parise-Mikko Koivu-Coyle line, the trio has combined for eight goals and 21 points.
The Wild’s penalty kill went 4-for-4 and is flawless in four consecutive games after giving up 12 goals on 35 chances in a 13-game span.
“Whenever your goalie’s giving you performances like that, your penalty kill is going to be better,” Yeo said.