BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Wild started Tuesday’s game against the Sabres missing one regular center, and that deficit doubled before the first period ended.
Captain Mikko Koivu exited a 5-4 shootout loss before the initial intermission after colliding with winger Tage Thompson near center ice. The two smacked right legs, sending Koivu falling to the ice after he was carrying the puck.
After the game, coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t have an update on Koivu’s lower-body injury.
“It’s not the greatest situation to be in,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “He’s such a huge part on the ice, in the locker room. He’s our leader – faceoff, defense, everything. He does it all, and you can’t really replace him.
“Everyone pulls the rope more and takes on a little more responsibility. I think we’re able to do that. Obviously, guys step up but not ideal. But it’s going to be some good adversity to overcome, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Already, the Wild was playing without center Eric Fehr, who was sick and did not dress against Buffalo.
“Those are key players for us, especially down the middle,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “To have centers that win draws as they do, it helps you get possession right away – especially on the penalty kill and stuff like that.”
With Koivu unavailable, Coyle moved over from right wing to fill the void at center – working with wingers Zach Parise and Luke Kunin.
And the trio helped the Wild bank a point, being on the ice for three team goals – including the fourth one, Parise’s team-leading 21st, that evened it at 4 and set up extra time.
Coyle finished with a goal and assist, while Kunin had two helpers.
“We felt like it was a couple weeks ago we were playing and had success,” Coyle said, referring to the trio’s dynamic stretch coming out of the holiday break. “We just kind of clicked right away and started to gain some confidence, and you get that goal – that helps. We were just doing the right things, just simple. I was trying to keep speed through [the middle], and those guys were making plays, getting on the forecheck, just simple stuff. That makes us get those chances that we had.”
The second period was when the Wild did most of its rallying, scoring three times to flip a one-goal deficit into a 3-3 game.
“We’re getting to the net, getting pucks to the net, bodies to the net, and good things were happening when we were doing that,” Kunin said.
Another architect for the Wild’s comeback effort was Spurgeon.
He scored twice, reaching the 10-goal plateau for the third time in his career, and it continued to push him past 30 points – also the third season he’s surpassed that mark.
In his last 15 games, Spurgeon has six goals and 13 points.
“At the start of the year, I was sort of in a different position partner-wise and obviously you lose a big piece with Mat Dumba going out [with a torn pectoral muscle]. We’ve tried to just pick it up for him. What he can do no one’s ever going to replace a guy like that. You just take the opportunity when you can, and hopefully they go in.”
In the shootout, the Wild went with forwards Victor Rask and Jason Zucker before Parise.
Rask lost control of the puck before getting a shot off, while Zucker's backhand was stopped and Parise went high.
Although he didn't specify what it was, Boudreau said there was a reason he picked Rask to participate in the shootout. Rask was 1-for-8 in his career coming into the game, with all of those attempts coming in 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.