Times are changing in the NHL’s Central Division.
The Jets are challenging for their first ever first-place finish, while the Avalanche — last season’s worst team — is in contention for a playoff spot.
As for the Blackhawks, one of the dynasties of the decade, they have slumped to the bottom.
Amid this round of musical chairs, the Wild has managed to remain in the competitive sector of the hierarchy.
And a performance like the one assembled Saturday night against those Blackhawks is a reason why, as the Wild dismantled Chicago 3-0 in front of an announced season-high 19,227 at Xcel Energy Center to push a franchise-record point streak on home ice to 12 games (9-0-3).
“That was a huge game for us,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “Every game is big points-wise, but this was a big opportunity against a team behind us to put them further behind us. We gotta take these opportunities when we can, and that was a good one.”
Charlie Coyle scored twice, reaching a milestone in the process, and Dubnyk was spectacular in posting a season-high 44 saves for his fourth shutout of the season.
Only 1 minute, 58 seconds after puck drop, Coyle delivered his first. Following a close call near the back post seconds earlier, he recouped the puck behind the net and banked it off Chicago goalie Jeff Glass.
After surviving a 5-on-3 power play that was awarded to the Blackhawks once Wild defenseman Mike Reilly and winger Marcus Foligno accosted Chicago winger Lance Bouma for his hit on Nate Prosser, the Wild capitalized on its first look with the man advantage.
Defenseman Matt Dumba’s shot caromed off captain Mikko Koivu in front at 6:31 for Koivu’s second goal in his past three games on the heels of an 11-game drought. It was also the ninth time in the past 11 games that the Wild has tallied at least one power-play goal.
Overall, the unit finished 1-for-4; Chicago went 0-for-4.
“It was a great kill, and usually the odds are with you if you can kill a 5-on-3,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “For some reason, you usually end up winning the game.”
That was the Wild’s fifth and final shot of the period, as the Blackhawks — boosted by that early power play — tested Dubnyk frequently. He had 17 saves after the first period and was almost as busy in the second, turning aside another 12.
But the Wild was the only one able to convert.
The team went up 3-0 only 2:22 into the second on Coyle’s second of the game.
This time, Coyle went nearly end-to-end — heaving the puck up ice from about the hash marks in the Wild’s zone until he unleashed a wrist shot by Glass to record his 200th career point and fourth goal in his past six games — Coyle’s most productive stretch of the season. Glass ended up with 16 saves.
“We were kind of playing simple and weren’t making too many risky plays or anything,” Coyle said. “We were playing down low and trying to win battles and controlling the puck.”
Chicago wasn’t as active in the third period, but Dubnyk was steady regardless — a signature showing that elevated the Wild to 1-0-1 on its five-game homestand.
“We capitalized on our opportunities, and we worked extremely hard in our end clearing guys out in front, clearing rebounds out,” Dubnyk said. “It gives me an opportunity to make all the saves, and that’s important.”