There will be a New Year’s Eve clash of streaking 2000 expansion titans at Xcel Energy Center.
Thanks to the three fastest goals in franchise history in the second period and a double deflection off Erik Haula’s legs in the third period, the Wild rallied Thursday to beat the New York Islanders 6-4 for a 12th consecutive victory.
Just 467 miles north at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, the Columbus Blue Jackets cooperated, too, by rallying to beat the Jets for a 14th consecutive victory.
Not only is this the first time in NHL history two teams have concurrent single-season winning streaks of at least 12 games, these two usually under-the-radar franchises so happen to meet Saturday in St. Paul.
Oh, the drama.
“I don’t even know if I want to come to the rink [Friday],” coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Wild’s home arena, where the Wild and Blue Jackets will practice two hours apart. “I know it’s going to get a lot of airplay, but you know what? We’re going to treat it like another game.
“I know it’s going to be tough for the players because I’ve got to believe that it’s going to gain national attention just because it doesn’t happen too often, but we’re going to try to stay focused and do what we do right.”
Saturday will be the first NHL game in history in which each team enters with a winning streak of at least seven games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s an interesting scenario for sure, not one you’d expect to line up this way,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who gave up a season-high four goals. While he saw his 10-game streak end of allowing two goals or less, Dubnyk extended his career-high and franchise-record winning streak to 10 games and his career-best point streak to 14 (12-0-2).
The Wild, which tied a franchise record with its eighth home win in a row and had a 12-win month for the first time, hasn’t lost since Dec. 2 and carries a franchise-best 12-0-1 point streak. The Blue Jackets have points in 16 straight games (15-0-1).
Trailing 2-1 in the second, the Wild got goals from Chris Stewart, Jared Spurgeon and Jordan Schroeder 1:20 apart to end Jaroslav Halak’s night and stun a sold-out crowd, many of whom were mentally prepping to see the Wild’s first regulation defeat since Nov. 29.
They’d think so again when 97 seconds into the third, the Wild’s 4-2 lead evaporated when Warroad’s Brock Nelson scored a pair of 4-on-4 goals 42 seconds apart, the two fastest goals by the same opponent in Wild history at home.
But, as Dubnyk said, “You’ve got to win games every which way.”
With 9 ½ minutes left, the Haula line flew into the Islanders’ end with speed and former Isle Nino Niederreiter took a shot that deflected off both of Haula’s lower legs before caroming in past J-F Berube.
“I just felt it hit my feet,” Haula said. “I just saw it go in. I guess when you’re playing well, you get bounces like that sometimes.”
Fifteen of 18 Wild skaters had points, including Ryan Suter getting two assists 35 seconds apart. He also had 10 shot attempts.
The rally was triggered when for the second game in a row, Boudreau elevated Schroeder to the Eric Staal line and dropped struggling Jason Pominville to the fourth.
“As it turned out, in two shifts, both lines scored,” Boudreau said.
Mikko Koivu also had two assists, Staal extended his point streak to nine and Mikael Granlund scored the Wild’s 11th empty-net goal, had seven shots and an assist. Dubnyk, without a regulation loss since Nov. 19, made 24 saves.
Sadly, Saturday night, one mammoth winning streak will end.
“They have a will to win. I mean, they like this,” Boudreau said of his players. “I’m sure Columbus is the same way. They like winning.”