RALEIGH, N.C. – The Wild’s been the best road team in the NHL for nearly two months, and perhaps one reason is because road games are starting to feel and sound a lot like home games.
Yet again Friday night, despite Minnesota wearing its road whites in a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, any time the Wild’s needed some urging, a “Let’s Go Wild!” chant broke out. Anytime a goal was scored, you had to double-check to make sure it was actually the Wild that scored because it was so loud.
Anytime Devan Dubnyk saved the Wild (which was often), the sound of “Dooooooooo” reverberated PNC Arena.
Whether the Wild’s 16-2-1 hot streak is causing more fans to travel or there’s just a ton of Minnesotans residing in Denver, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina’s Triangle, the Wild, an NHL-best 10-1-2 since Jan. 15 on the road, is sure enjoying the support.
“It’s awesome. It’s amazing,” Dubnyk said, smiling widely, after making 37 saves — his most work since his 23-game consecutive start streak began with a Jan. 14 trade from Arizona. “Colorado was something else [last Saturday], but every game — Washington, here. This is a long way from Minny, too.
“It’s pretty crazy. You can hear them, you can hear them when we score, you can hear them when we make good plays. It’s fun.”
The Wild, 18-3-2 in its past 23 and winners of eight of its past nine, has a three-point lead on Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot and remains four points back of Chicago for third in the Central Division. It was 17 back on Jan. 14.
Back in the Twin Cities, a debate among hockey fans not consumed by the high school state tournament was whether Friday was time to rest Dubnyk and sneak Darcy Kuemper into his first NHL start since Jan. 6.
After all, the ’Canes are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
But Yeo went with Dubnyk because the Wild’s legs could be mush from playing the night before, because these victories are critical, because he only faced 25 shots in Washington and because with no practice Saturday and no morning skate Sunday, he almost needed the game to stay sharp for Sunday’s game against Colorado.
If Dubnyk keeps playing like this, there may never come a time for rest.
The Hurricanes gave the Wild a scare, but despite the Wild being outshot 38-19 and 16-4 in a second period that included a span of 10 minutes, 45 seconds without a shot, Dubnyk put forth another sterling performance.
He improved to 18-3-1 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
“We say the same thing after every game,” said Zach Parise. “He gave us a chance to rediscover the way we need to play. Again, he was a huge, huge part of our win.”
Charlie Coyle gave the Wild an early 1-0 lead, but the Wild was allergic to the offensive zone in the second, was pinned constantly in its own end by Carolina and saw that lead disappear on a Riley Nash goal that Dubnyk had no prayer on.
However, early in the third, Mikael Granlund (plus-3) and Parise scored goals less than two minutes apart.
Granlund’s attempted pass for Jason Pominville caromed in off a Hurricanes defender and Parise pressured Carolina into a turnover and buried his 26th goal off Pominville’s rebound.
“More of a mental adjustment,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said of what changed between periods. “Duby was outstanding in that second period and gave us a chance to collect ourselves.”
The Wild, playing a team coming off four days’ rest, began shortening its shifts, simplifying its game and playing with the puck for a change.
“I don’t think we were tired. We just didn’t have a very good first two periods at all,” Parise said. “They pressured us all over the ice and it just felt like we never had the puck. We were chasing it the whole night. Finally we were able to hold on and break through in the third, but it was a pretty frustrating first two periods.”