For the third time in franchise history and first time since winning the now-defunct Northwest Division in 2008, the Wild will have home-ice advantage in a series when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next Wednesday.
On a night of short-lived leads, the Wild’s fourth on an eventual winning goal by Charlie Coyle was finally good enough to close the regular-season home schedule with a 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
For the first time in the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter era — one that includes five consecutive playoff berths — the Wild will start the postseason at Xcel Energy Center.
“Hopefully that’ll be the difference for us,” Suter said. “We played really solid earlier in the year here, and we’re starting to get that mojo back at home.”
The Wild, which cemented the second seed in the Central Division and will open against the St. Louis Blues or Nashville Predators next week, won its 27th home game, the second most in franchise history.
With 102 points, the Wild sits two points from matching its franchise record for points in a season with two road games left.
There were two solid signs against the Hurricanes: coach Bruce Boudreau may have finally settled on a top line with Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Parise combining for three goals and eight points. And a mentally tough Devan Dubnyk didn’t crumble into smithereens after allowing three goals on six shots in a first period that ended with a 3-3 score despite a 16-6 Wild shot lead.
Dubnyk stopped all 24 shots he faced in the second and third periods.
“I’m not going to tell you it’s easy,” Dubnyk said. “I just tried to relax and not chase shots. It was a tie game. It was an opportunity to go out there and forget about what happened in the first period. Regardless if [I] should’ve saved it, shouldn’t have saved it, didn’t matter. It’s a tie game. It’s not easy, but those ones feel special in the end when you can feel great about your game.”
Niederreiter scored two goals and had an assist, Parise scored a goal and had two assists and Staal had two assists. Jordan Schroeder also scored for the second time in two games.
Boudreau made it clear the Staal line should remain intact even with all the juggling. The forwards were all over the puck, forechecked well, forced turnovers, dug pucks out from dirty areas and created loads of scoring chances.
“We were dialed in,” Staal said.
It was a special night for Parise, who wore the helmet and gloves of his late father, J.P., during pregame warmups while he and teammates wore 1967 replica North Stars sweaters.
“I was happy my mom was able to dig it out of one of his old bags, and I think the guys got a pretty good laugh out of it,” Parise said.
All wasn’t peachy though. First-pair defenseman Jared Spurgeon didn’t play the final 34 minutes because of a lower-body injury. But Boudreau doesn’t think it’s serious and said Spurgeon will travel on the end-of-season road trip to Colorado and Arizona.
It was a solid victory after a crazy first period in which the Wild peppered Cam Ward and the Hurricanes but still gave up three goals. Two defensemen skated to the puck carrier on the first tying goal. Dubnyk gave up on unscreened shot on Jeff Skinner’s tying goal. And Skinner tied the score again with 11 seconds left by finding a puck in traffic.
But in the second, Coyle scored his 18th goal by burying Christian Folin’s rebound, one of several goals with the Wild attacking the net.
“We’ll take those garbage goals all day,” Coyle said.
The Wild was proud of earning home ice in the first round. Does it mean anything?
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’ve had home ice every year I’ve been in the league and I haven’t won a Cup yet, so I don’t know how important it is,” Boudreau cracked. “I certainly am glad we have it. We have tremendous fans and hopefully they can make the difference.”