Sunday’s morning skate was optional, but Zach Parise and a number of Wild veterans moseyed down to Joe Louis Arena to work on their sticks and prepare for a second consecutive game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Parise didn’t hear about his coach’s lecture to reporters the day before. It came after the Wild lost its latest one-goal game during a contest that could have swung either way.
Trying to head off any talk of another late-season swoon before the topic was even broached, Mike Yeo said the Wild’s stretch of two victories in nine games wasn’t anything like the previous two late-season stumbles, that this was a “different team.”
Parise agreed with his coach.
“I don’t get the sense that anyone’s freaking out or panicking or anything,” Parise said Sunday morning. “I still think for the most part, we’re playing well. We like the way we’re playing in a lot of different areas. There are two areas we need to fix. Lately, I think we’ve gotten away from playing with speed. We’ve played a little slow lately. Also, our forecheck needs to be better. We need to sustain more pressure.”
Hours later, the Wild did just that in a rematch against the Red Wings. Playing for the fifth time in seven days, the Wild looked fast and attacked constantly on the forecheck. The Wild routinely hemmed Detroit in with smothering pressure and wound up rallying from two goals down for a 4-3 overtime win in a game it dominated even when trailing by those two goals.
“You can tell, when we’re playing well, we’re moving our feet and we’re getting up on the forecheck and we’re making it uncomfortable for the other team’s defensemen,” Parise said. “We’ve played a lot of hockey lately. I was pretty surprised at the energy we had and the legs that we had.”
It was a big victory for the Wild just to lower the temperature for a few days. The players may not have been “freaking out,” but fans certainly were with the Wild failing to win games lately and a difficult schedule on the horizon.
After the Wild plays host to the desperate Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, it hits the road for games at St. Louis, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Parise and Ryan Suter said before Sunday’s game that while panic hadn’t infiltrated the Wild’s locker room, the reality was players were suddenly scoreboard watching again with the Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Canucks threatening from behind.
“You look and you’re watching other teams again where before, you could just focus on playing games and winning games trying to getting points,” Suter said Sunday morning. “Now you’re keeping an eye on the Phoenixes and the Dallases.
“I don’t think it’s good that we’re losing, but I think it’s good to know those teams are coming so we get playing good. You don’t want to sneak into the playoffs. We did that last year, and it didn’t really bode too well for us. It’s a good opportunity if we get some wins together here before the playoffs come.”
Yeo liked how the Wild played Saturday against Detroit. He told his team before Sunday’s rematch that the loss was proof of the very small difference between winning and losing this time of year and it was up to the players to crank it up more.
“We’re not that far off, but we’re not there yet,” Yeo told his players. “I wasn’t trying to create a big thing [with his speech to reporters after Saturday’s game]. I think we feel differently. We feel confident. We didn’t start [Sunday’s] game afraid.”
Most impressive about Sunday’s win is the Wild didn’t waver from its game once it fell behind 2-0. Yeo implored his team “to stick with it” during the first intermission, a period where players naturally could have been banging their heads against the wall after playing so well and having nothing to show for it.
Jason Pominville’s power-play goal pulled the Wild within one, then Charlie Coyle and Parise scored in the third period following the type of overpowering forechecks Parise said before the game were necessary.
The Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Coyle line had an outstanding period, so it was fitting that Coyle assisted on Moulson’s overtime winner, too.
Jonas Brodin made a keen play to set up the goal. The defenseman waited patiently along the wall for Moulson to streak in front of goalie Jimmy Howard. Brodin then deliberately threw the puck on net softly so Moulson could redirect it for his second career overtime goal.
“Feels good, but we’ve got to keep this going,” said Coyle, coming off arguably his two best games of the season. “We can’t be satisfied with just a win. We’ve got to string a few together.”
The Wild signed 2013 second-round draft pick Gustav Olofsson to a three-year contract that begins next season. Olofsson will sign an amateur tryout with the Iowa Wild of the AHL and start there next week.
Olofsson, 19, is a 6-4 defenseman who just completed his freshman season at Colorado College and impressed at the world junior championships, where he won a silver medal with Sweden.
“We’re confident that he’s ready for the next challenge in his young career,” Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr said. “His skill set really excites us going forward.”