ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Dropped sticks, botched shots and sloppy penalties made it clear the Wild is still getting up to speed after a COVID-19 outbreak pulled the plug on the team's season for almost two weeks.
That didn't matter against the floundering Ducks, with the Wild having enough juice to upend the Ducks 3-1 Thursday at Honda Center for the team's first victory since it restarted the season.
But the disconnect wasn't lost on the Wild.
"It was a grind, and we have to do some things to make a game like that a little easier on us," coach Dean Evason said. "We don't mind grinding it out, and we don't mind doing those things to get a win. But we shouldn't have had to in tonight's hockey game."
Kevin Fiala buried his first game-winner of the season, the power play came close to scoring and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen had 16 saves in front of a lineup that was closer to the Wild's normal posture than the outfit that skated in the 4-0 loss at Los Angeles on Tuesday in the team's first game back.
Four more regulars joined the mix against Anaheim, including two on defense, but most of the attention was on the offense after it was shut out by the Kings.
And it didn't take long for the Wild to shake off that funk.
Ryan Hartman opened the scoring 7 minutes, 27 seconds into the first period after scooping up a Ducks turnover and wiring the puck over goalie John Gibson for his second goal of the season; both tallies have come in Anaheim.
Only 38 seconds later, the Wild scored again — this time after Fiala buried the rebound off a Mats Zuccarello shot.
"It was nice to play with the lead," Hartman said.
Specials teams took over after that, and the setup didn't suit either team.
First, the Wild blanked on its first chance of the game — a situation that seemed to stall the momentum the team garnered from its quick two-goal outburst. And then the team committed back-to-back penalties to give Anaheim 66 seconds of 5-on-3 time after Marcus Foligno heaved a puck uncontested into the seats — what he described as a "boneheaded play."
But the Ducks, who were still searching for their first shot, didn't take advantage and captain Jared Spurgeon's multiple clears were the reason why.
"Literally it was Jared Spurgeon that killed it," Evason said. "His stick was absolutely phenomenal. The effort and the leadership that he brought tonight and certainly in that 5-on-3 was a very bright spot for us."
After the Ducks' Sam Steel cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period, the highlight of the third was when Foligno finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play from Nick Bonino and Zach Parise at 16:15 just as a Ducks penalty was expiring.
"I actually had no idea we had a power play," Foligno said. "[Jordan Greenway] changed early, so I was wondering why I had so much time."
The two-point heave up the standings is crucial for the Wild to cash in on its games at-hand in the West Division, but the boost was embraced alongside a reality check that the team still has to improve.
"It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't our best obviously," Foligno said. "But we know we're going to get better and better. We all know we can play a lot better than we showed tonight, but we still got the win so that's what's important."