Before Sunday's 5-2 victory over Colorado, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau waved off a request to assess Erik Haula's play. "Don't ask about him,'' Boudreau said. "I don't want to talk about players right now.''
When Boudreau walked into the postgame media session--smiling, rather than growling--he began by saying, ''OK, now you can ask.'' Haula played what Boudreau called "the best game he's played in a long time,'' finishing with a goal, an assist and four shots. Playing at left wing alongside Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, he also was plus-2 and drew an interference penalty early in the second period that led to Zach Parise's power-play goal.
Haula's performance was emblematic of a Wild team that played with much more pluck, precision and urgency than it did Saturday in a 3-0 loss at Nashville--or in many other games during a ragged March. Granted, they were playing a Colorado team that is the NHL's doormat in most major statistical categories. But for a team looking to regain its mojo before the playoffs arrive, the game provided a nice emotional lift.
The Wild got goals from five players, including Haula, who hadn't scored in 17 games dating to Feb. 28. The team was persistent and disciplined on offense, chasing Avs goalie Calvin Pickard in the second period after scoring four goals on 16 shots. It scored on one of two power plays and held Colorado without a power-play goal on two chances.
When asked if he was relieved by his team's performance, Haula demurred. With three regular-season games remaining, the victory won't mean much if the Wild backslides again.
"Best start we've had in a while,'' Haula said of the first period, when the Wild outshot Colorado 15-5 and outscored it 3-1. "It was real nice.
"I don't know if we can really be relieved. I think it just matters now what we do the rest of the way. It's all about consistency.''
Boudreau echoed that when talking about Haula, who was a likely scratch Sunday until Jason Zucker was sidelined with a lower-body injury. "Like I've said before,'' the coach said, "anybody can do anything once.''
Look for a story from Mr. Russo on Tuesday exploring Haula's role and whether he could be the tonic to get Koivu and Granlund going again. Meanwhile, here are some other notes from Sunday's game:
--Goaltender Devan Dubnyk got his 38th win of the season, breaking Niklas Backstrom's franchise record of 37 set in 2008-09. He said it was helpful to get some extra work with goaltending coach Bob Mason to hone his technique during his short break.
He also had high praise for his teammates. "We got back to playing ... I don't want to say playing hard, but we got pucks deep. It sounds cliche, and it's talked about a lot, but when we get the puck below the other team's goal line, I don't think I've ever seen a team that's as good at going and retrieving pucks as ours is. It's almost every time. And there have been some shots the last couple of games, but the guys are doing a good job of boxing out and letting us see it.''
--Jason Pominville got his 400th NHL assist and has two goals and two assists in the past four games. Granlund got his 200th NHL point on an eye-popping pass; with his back to the net at the right of the goal, he somehow found Haula in the slot and put the puck on his stick for a goal.
--Koivu had two assists and won 12 of 19 faceoffs. He had this to say after the game: "I think we've been better the last week or so, and we want to continue to do that. I thought for the whole 60 minutes, we were pretty good. I don't know if it's one thing (that has improved). I think specifically five-on-five, and the defensive end is working better and tighter all over the ice, which makes it tough for the opponent. Also, special teams for the most part is pretty good. So a little bit of everything, and that's what you need.''
--Dubnyk gets the last word, with this observation about the importance of playing well in the final games of the regular season:
"We want to get that feeling of winning. That's just a nice feeling to have, when you go onto the ice and just expect to win. We've had it for the entire season, and it slipped away for a few weeks. But if we can take the opportunity, if nothing else, to just get that feeling back this week, of just knowing when we go on the ice, we're going to win the hockey game, then that will be good to take into the playoffs.''