Too bad the Wild can’t get the Buffalo Sabres on the schedule more often. They’re starting to become the cure to all the Wild’s ills.
Perhaps they even have a magical antidote for the mumps virus that may be creeping through the Wild locker room and may have infected sidelined defensemen Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella.
Remember last winter when the Sabres came to St. Paul with Minnesota mired in a six-game losing streak and Mike Yeo’s job hanging by a skate lace? The Wild trounced them that night, and behind Nino Niederreiter’s first career hat trick Thursday night, the Wild again used and abused the NHL’s worst team to end a four-game losing streak with 6-3 victory.
Many may slight the win because it was against the hapless Sabres, who are 3-13-2 and have allowed six goals in each of their past three games, but Ryan Carter, who was part of a six-point night for the Wild’s fourth line, said: “It’s huge for us. I don’t care what their record is. That’s the kind of game I think we needed.”
In a game in which the Wild was missing two top-four defensemen and Zach Parise for a fourth consecutive game, the Wild skated through a Sabres squad in full-fledged draft-Connor-McDavid-or-Jack-Eichel mode.
“It’s kind of sad to watch team after team after team go through us in the defensive zone like we don’t know what we’re doing,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We have so many guys puck-staring, watching the puck and not being aware of what’s behind them. We’re at the National Hockey League level.”
In a crazy opening period that included the second-fastest three-goal outburst by two teams in NHL history (17 seconds), the Wild fired a franchise-record 20 shots at Jh'onas Enroth and rebounded from a 1-0 deficit 63 seconds in and Darcy Kuemper being chased after giving up two goals on two shots.
“In a weird way that’s kind of what our team needed,” Carter said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit mentally to find that toughness.”
In the first period, the Carter-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine line had two points from each of them and Niederreiter scored twice from near the blue paint, where Yeo has been imploring him to go. Flirting with a hat trick all game, Niederreiter was robbed once and hit the post shorthanded in the third. After a selfless pass by Charlie Coyle (two assists), Niederreitter finally buried an empty-netter for the 18th hat trick in Wild history.
“I just said, ‘I’ve got to keep shooting the puck and eventually it’ll go in,’ and luckily they pulled the goalie,” said Niederreiter, who has a team-leading seven goals.
Yeo wanted to ease in Jared Spurgeon after a shoulder injury, but that was impossible with Scandella and Brodin sick. Paired with Ryan Suter, Spurgeon logged a season-high 29 minutes, 27 seconds and scored a power-play goal — one of two by the Wild.
Niklas Backstrom, who replaced Kuemper 6 ½ minutes in, stopped 25 shots for his first home win since Jan. 4.
Carter (bunted a goal like he was sacrificing a runner to second base) and Niederreiter scored seven seconds apart to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. But when Zemgus Girgensons tied the score 10 seconds later, Yeo saw enough of Kuemper.
“Those aren’t easy decisions, but what good teams and close teams do is bail out their teammates, and I thought not only did Backy do that but the rest of the team did as well,” Yeo said.
Fontaine fed Brodziak for his third goal less than three minutes later, then Niederreiter scored for a 4-2 lead after one.
Yeo scrambled all his lines. For one game, it worked. Now the Wild (2-6 on the road) plays back-to-back, road-home games Saturday and Sunday against division rivals Dallas and Winnipeg. The Wild has won once in Dallas in 20 visits (1-14-5) since March 21, 2003.
But scoring six goals after three in the previous four games is a good confidence booster.
“Hopefully we saved a couple for the weekend,” Carter said.