Scrapping practice to give players a mental break wasn’t the only tactic coach Bruce Boudreau used to try to reignite the Wild on the heels of getting pancaked in Pittsburgh earlier in the week.
He also reworked almost the entire forward group, debuting three new lines when the team reconvened Thursday.
But it was the tried-and-true trio of Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin — the only unit that Boudreau didn’t break up — that was a significant factor in the Wild dispatching the uber-hot Lightning 3-2 in front of an announced 17,305 at Xcel Energy Center to end a four-game slide with only the team’s second victory in eight outings.
Eriksson Ek’s second-period tally began a two-goal outburst in 2 minutes, 11 seconds that was the difference, but the line held its own in a hefty matchup against Tampa Bay’s top three and was on the ice in the waning seconds to bubble wrap a one-goal lead to safety.
“We’re out there against their top guys, and that’s the line we want to be,” Foligno said. “To also be rewarded with a point each and just a big, crucial goal to kind of get us back on top, I think that was a great play by Kunny and Ek. It’s just something we take pride in.”
Add in a sharp performance by goalie Alex Stalock, who pocketed 18 saves, and a mostly disciplined effort that featured only two penalties — both in the third period — and the Wild looked like a throwback to the team that was stockpiling points in December.
“The energy was there,” said Ryan Suter, who scored the winning goal. “Guys were working and when we’re winning games, that’s how we we’re playing and that’s how this team has to play.”
For the first time in four games, the Wild opened the scoring on a one-timer from Zach Parise on the power play at 14:17 of the first.
It was Parise’s team-leading 17th goal and third in the past two games and the Wild’s second power-play goal in as many games after a 0-for-7 rut and 4-for-20 run before that. Overall, the team went 1-for-4.
Tampa Bay didn’t pull even until 7:42 into the second, when Nikita Kucherov’s one-timer from inside the right faceoff circle flew into an open side. But it wasn’t much later the Wild retaliated, a response that was lacking during the team’s recent skid.
After Foligno poked the puck off Ondrej Palat, Kunin set up Eriksson Ek in the slot at 12:32.
Eriksson Ek now has seven points in his past 10 games, Kunin’s assist was his career-high 12th and ninth point in his past 10 and Foligno has seven points in his past six.
“We’re just trying to work hard and talk to each other,” Eriksson Ek said, “and of course when we get a few goals together, we start to build some chemistry.”
By 14:43, the Wild doubled its lead on Suter’s shot and it was eventually 4-1 before a Lightning challenge wiped Carson Soucy’s goal off the board once video review determined Kevin Fiala was offside on the play. Tampa Bay goalie Curtis McElhinney made 20 stops.
Although the Wild showed improved discipline through the first two periods — not committing any penalties after 12 combined its previous two games — its’ penalty kill was tested twice in the third.
After snuffing out Tampa Bay’s first look, the Wild wasn’t successful when Matt Dumba was called for roughing — getting burned on a blistering shot by Kucherov at 9:32.
But the Wild held off the Lightning the rest of the way, with Eriksson Ek’s line patrolling the ice when time expired.
“That’s their temperament, their DNA,” Boudreau said. “If you look at the character of those three, they keep pushing and pushing and pushing.”