Three years ago, Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov saved the day. Two years ago, it was Devan Dubnyk.
Last season, it took John Torchetti’s entrance and Mike Yeo’s exit.
Any time the Wild falls into an abyss, it seems some sort of external move needs to happen for the team to climb back out.
Thursday night, Alex Stalock and Joel Eriksson Ek arrived. With a new goalie and center in the fray, the Wild found a flicker of life and responded with a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
“They really took it to us,” said Senators veteran Dion Phaneuf. “The score reflects really the whole game.”
Stalock, the South St. Paul native recalled from Des Moines for his Wild debut, made 18 saves for his first NHL win since Jan. 12, 2016. Eriksson Ek, brought back to the NHL from his pro club in Karlstad, Sweden, scored his first NHL goal since Oct. 27, and the Wild won for the fourth time in 16 games this month (4-10-2).
“It’s fun seeing new guys around the locker room, and especially how things are going,” said Nino Niederreiter, who busted out of a slump with two goals.
Continuing a recent trend, the Wild protected Stalock by giving up 19 shots. The Wild is 1-0-2 in its past three games, holding those opponents to a combined 58 shots (19.3 a game).
“They didn’t give us much, and they frustrated us,” Senators goalie Craig Anderson said. “We just weren’t able to generate anything.”
Matt Dumba and Jason Pominville also scored, while Charlie Coyle and Chris Stewart had two assists each.
The Wild got contributions up and down its lineup, including from a newly constructed fast, physical fourth line made up of Erik Haula, Eriksson Ek (10-for-16 in the faceoff circle, three hits) and Ryan White. White especially forced turnovers and pounded bodies.
“It starts in the middle. Ek was good in the circle,” White said. “We had the puck all night. It’s pretty easy to play the game that way.”
Stalock was athletic, agile and quite the contrast to the larger Dubnyk and Kuemper. At 5-foot-10, he’s about the size of John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Vernon, a rarity in today’s NHL.
With family and friends in the crowd, Stalock even got the solo lap treatment in warmups, a custom typically bequeathed to rookies making their NHL debuts.
Stalock was playing his 63rd NHL game. Coincidentally, his first NHL start and second career win came Oct. 27, 2013, in Ottawa (a 5-2 San Jose Sharks win).
“The nerves were flowing and not much sleep the last 24 hours, but to get some shots early and feel the puck, it definitely helped,” Stalock said. “The guys made it easy. I just made the routine saves. It was fun to be a part of again.”
The Senators were missing captain Erik Karlsson, and the Wild was without Zach Parise. The Wild gained an eight-point edge on St. Louis for home-ice advantage in the first round and nine points on Nashville. The Wild visits the Predators on Saturday.
Stalock had no prayer of stopping Mike Hoffman’s scorching one-timer in the first period, but 47 seconds later Niederreiter ended a 16-game goal drought. Early in the second, he made it 2-0 after a great forecheck by Stewart and Eric Staal.
“When you don’t score as a potentially top goal scorer, you get frustrated and it creeps in your game and it’s tough on you mentally,” Niederreiter said. “When the first one gets in, you start feeling loose again and then it’s just a matter of time to get the next one.”
The Wild dominated from there and got its first two-goal lead in 11 games when Eriksson Ek jumped on for Mikko Koivu and caught the Sens sleeping.
“I hope we keep building. It’s one game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’ll be a little tougher in Nashville. We’ll see how we do there.”