One game after playing at preseason speed in Thursday’s opener, the Wild had a decent start to Saturday’s home opener. That was until a shocking final 71 seconds of the first period saw the Winnipeg Jets turn turnovers by two normally responsible defensemen into two goals.
The Wild was booed off the ice. Players slammed sticks and cursed in the locker room.
That’s when the team got its first tongue-lashing from emotional coach Bruce Boudreau, who’s especially famous on YouTube for one particular dressing room address during his Washington Capitals days.
“There were choice words by Bruce, I guess you could say, but they were the right things said,” veteran Eric Staal said.
By the end of the second period, the Wild was cheered off the ice. Chris Stewart and Matt Dumba scored 58 seconds apart and Staal scored his first goal in a Wild sweater as the Wild took control of the game and ultimately delivered Boudreau his first Minnesota victory by a 4-3 score.
“The thing that got me more upset was we looked defeated,” Boudreau said in his explaining his first-intermission outburst. “And we had to change that.”
Boudreau got the response he wanted. The Wild held the Jets, who could be jostling all season with the Wild for a playoff spot, to two shots in the second and none during a 14-minute stretch.
“I don’t remember them having the puck in our zone [in the second],” Boudreau said.
Staal was 19 seconds from his first winning goal with the Wild until Mark Scheifele popped in a 6-on-5 goal. That meant Jonas Brodin’s insurance goal 5 ½ minutes earlier became the winner.
That was fitting because Brodin’s attempted pass to Stewart late in the first was picked off by Nikolaj Ehlers and resulted in a 1-0 lead. With 2.6 seconds left, Ryan Suter’s turnover resulted in Blake Wheeler’s goal and a crushing 2-0 lead.
“I think [Boudreau] had enough, and for good reason,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 14 saves in his 300th game. “Not that we had a bad first period at all — I thought we had a good first period, but you just can’t go to sleep like that in the last minute. That’s when you need to really buckle down.”
Brodin especially rebounded to have a very good game and help the Wild improve to 14-0-2 all-time in home openers.
“It worked out well for him,” Boudreau deadpanned.
In the second, Stewart, trying to spark the Wild, took an undisciplined penalty. He was nervous sitting in the box, but the Wild, 6-for-6 on the penalty kill in two games, doused the Jets’ power play. Then, Jared Spurgeon made a great move in the defensive zone to bank a pass to Stewart. With Staal driving the net, Stewart tried to tee up a rebound for Staal. Instead, Ehlers put it in himself.
Less than a minute later, Dumba scored three seconds into a power play to make it 2-2.
Staal, the Wild’s big free-agent acquisition looking to resurrect his career after a few tough final seasons in Carolina, played a beastly game. It was highlighted by a hustling Staal turning a 2-on-2 led by Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle into a 3-on-2. He buried Coyle’s pass at the backdoor for the go-ahead goal.
The usually mild-mannered Staal, who had an outstanding preseason, was fired up after the goal.
“It’s been a long summer,” Staal said. “It’s only the beginning.”
“I don’t know if I’ve seen that much emotion on his face after scoring a goal in a long time,” Boudreau said.
Stewart got credit for igniting the Wild. He recorded his fourth career Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist on Dumba’s goal and fighting Chris Thorburn).
“Got the hard part out of the way first, and [the fight] was the easy part,” Stewart said.
Added Dumba, “Tonight, he showed why he’s so valuable.”