EDMONTON, ALBERTA – John Torchetti’s only goal heading into Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was to “keep it rolling and go home in a good mood.”
Three hours later, that mission was accomplished after a 5-2 victory resulted in a 3-for-3 western Canadian sweep for a second consecutive season.
As music blared inside the locker room, as high-fives were exchanged and jokes bandied about, it was impossible not to think back to the polar opposite attitude only five days earlier when the Wild’s eighth consecutive loss and 13th in 14 games cost Mike Yeo his job.
“What a different feeling,” Darcy Kuemper said after making 31 saves for his first victory since Jan. 21. “It’s nice to see the smiles on everyone’s faces again and having some fun coming to the rink. We’re working for each other right now and cheering each other on. It’s contagious.”
In its last visit ever to Rexall Place — the Oilers open a new arena next season — the Wild got two-point nights from Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Matt Dumba, Mikael Granlund and Mike Reilly (the first two-point game of his career).
The Wild improved to 3-0 under Torchetti with five goals in each game. The Wild, two points behind Nashville and Colorado for the playoff threshold, hadn’t scored more than three goals in the final 16 games under Yeo.
“It’s a world of difference, it feels like,” said Charlie Coyle, whose empty-net goal tied him with Zach Parise for the team goal-scoring lead (18). “All of a sudden we feel so good about ourselves.”
The question though is why? Why did it take a coaching change for the Wild to start exuding more effort, more pace, more energy, more fun, more wins?
“That’s tough to say,” said Parise, who scored one goal in Yeo’s final 13 games. “I don’t want to disrespect Mike at all. He was our coach for a long time, so it’s hard to answer. But I think it’s pretty clear we’re playing with a lot more pace, it feels to me we’re playing a lot more in the offensive zone. We’re playing with a little excitement that we haven’t had in awhile.
“We have 15 goals in three games. I mean, we didn’t score 15 goals in January.”
Well, actually 23 goals in 13 games in January, but you get the point.
Added Kuemper: “It’s a fresh slate for everyone, a fresh start. A lot of guys had a lot of negative things going on and it’s almost like a new season.”
“When it’s bad, it’s bad, and when it’s good, it’s fun,” Dumba said. “That first win we had [Monday in Vancouver], everyone came to greet [Devan Dubnyk], but we really didn’t know what to do. It felt so long. Now that we’ve got this thing rolling, the sky’s the limit. We want to keep pushing forward.”
Jason Pominville and Dumba scored power-play goals in the first period, but both times the Oilers answered on goals by Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov.
But the Wild made sure not to allow the Oilers to respond after Vanek, playing his 800th game, scored 4:48 into the second period. Kuemper made a tremendous left-pad save to rob Yakupov on a breakaway to preserve the one-goal lead.
Granlund gave the Wild a two-goal lead late in the period. With Dumba streaking down the right wing, Granlund drove the net and scored off a rebound. Before Dumba even shot, you could hear Torchetti scream from the bench, “Granny, go to the net!”
Now Torchetti wants the Wild to keep it going. The Wild has yet to win four games in a row this season and Sunday carries an eight-game “home” winless streak into TCF Bank Stadium for its outdoor game against the rival Blackhawks.
“We’ve got to be ready,” Torchetti said. “Let’s get to work and get ready for the game.”