It was kind of therapeutic to be in a winning locker room and write a winning game story again.
Plus, Dead Man Winter was on Conan, so good night all around for Minnesotans everywhere.
It’s a little easier, to the say the least, to be around the team when guys actually don’t dread the questions.
Solid 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators tonight, and Alex Stalock and Joel Eriksson Ek were just what the doctor ordered.
The Wild badly needed a win, and with Devan Dubnyk needing a rest, the Wild felt Stalock offered the team that best chance. You could tell early the Wild was making a concerted effort to try to protect Stalock, who has been playing well in Iowa but was making his first NHL start since Feb. 2016.
After allowing nine shots in a 1-1 first period, the Wild gave up 10 the rest of the game and scored five unanswered goals after Mike Hoffman scored in the first two seconds after a power play expired. Stalock finished with 18 saves for his first win since Jan. 2016.
The Wild’s now eight up on the Blues, nine on the Preds for home-ice in the first round. The Wild will play one of those teams in the first round almost assuredly, and the Wild plays in Nashville at 1 p.m. Saturday.
My guess was that Dubnyk would start Saturday in Nashville and Stalock on Sunday at home against Colorado, but we’ll see then if that’s the case.
After Hoffman scored on a goal Stalock had no chance of stopping, Nino Niederreiter scored a ginormous bounceback goal 47 seconds later. Then, Niederreiter, who hadn’t scored since his 20th goal way back on Feb. 27, you know, when the Wild was still leading the West, scored early in the second after an outstanding forecheck by Chris Stewart and Eric Staal.
Staal’s pass was gorgeous to extend his point streak to six games.
That goal changed the game because even the Senators said the Wild dominated the rest of the game.
Eriksson Ek, who hadn’t scored an NHL goal since Oct. 27 or played an NHL game since November, then scored an awesome goal coming off the bench for Mikko Koivu. Charlie Coyle, who later assisted on a Jason Pominville goal, played the role of bumper on a Jared Spurgeon pass to tee up Eriksson Ek.
“He was very physical. He was in the right position all the time,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of the 20-year-old rookie. “I told him out there, I said, 'I want to see a game that I saw in Buffalo.' He scores that goal, which was like the one he scored in Buffalo. I thought that was pretty cool.”
Eriksson Ek also had three hits and won 10 of 16 faceoffs centering a great fourth line tonight with Erik Haula and Ryan White, who was terrific. I know White’s been maligned, but he really was so good and created havoc with his physicality.
“It starts in the middle. Ek was good in the circle,” White said. “I don’t even know if we lost a draw in the first period. It’s pretty easy to start the game off with the puck. Easy to get a forecheck going. We just tried to surround that puck and just try to get momentum for the guys.”
Matt Dumba scored a goal, as well, and Stewart, who was flying on the first line with Niederreiter and Staal, had two assists after not having any in 14 games.
Stalock, from South St. Paul, was the 22nd Minnesotan to wear a Wild sweater in history (second goalie; John Curry). He was the 17th goalie to dress for the Wild.
Coincidentally, his first NHL start was in Ottawa – a 5-2 win in 2013. He did have one relief win a few years before that.
He played in front of friends, family and … an excited Paul Allen.
“The nerves were flowing and not much sleep the last 24 hours, but to get some shots early and feel the puck, it definitely helped,” Stalock said. ““I was just actually saying that to Dubs, I don’t know when my last win was in this league. It’s been a while and the guys made it easy tonight. I just made the routine saves. It was fun to be a part of again.”
Like he was a rookie making his NHL debut, Stalock was given the solo lap treatment in warmups when captain Mikko Koivu, who enters the ice after the starting goalie, halted.
“Maybe I walked out too fast. Usually, I walk pretty fast, but maybe Mikko was taking his time,” Stalock said.
Great sign to see Niederreiter come alive with two goals after scoring one in his previous 21.
“Obviously when you don’t score as a potentially top goal scorer you get frustrated and it creeps in your game and it’s tough on you mentally,” he said. “And obviously when the first one gets in you start feeling loose again and then it’s just a matter of time to get the next one.”
Added Boudreau, “I think any slump affects anybody's overall game. Look at anybody, they start trying to do things that they're not used to doing. It weighs in on their mind and all of these things. We had a good talk yesterday me and Nino and I think he got back to what he does which is go to the front of the net and score in the front of the net. That's where he gets his goals. When he's playing physical and getting involved in the game he's really good. When he's not and playing perimeter, not too much happens.”
On the win, Niederreiter said, “It was definitely big. I feel like we had a good start in the period, came out hungry and we wanted that win pretty badly and obviously they got the first goal and had a chance to come right back at them and I think from there we just kept going, getting pucks in deep, get in traffic and finally get rewarded.
“I think it’s another step in the right direction, I mean obviously we have to continue doing it. We can’t just get a win and then think it’s going to come no matter what. So we have to make sure we keep going and keep working on our little things.”
Boudreau loved how the Wild defended and collapsed down low near Stalock.
“I think the guys took that upon themselves. I didn't say, 'Hey. We've got to protect the goalie,’” Boudreau said. “We did want to continue our trend of what I think has been playing pretty good defensively for the last little bit because that's what's going to win hockey games. I thought again we kept the team under 20 shots and we did a good job at it.
“I hope it's not the culmination. I hope we keep building. It's one game. be a little tougher in Nashville. We'll see how we do there. Then we'll have a little better read on where we are.
“It was good to get a win at home. We hadn't won here in four games or five games and the fans are so great cheering us on. It was nice to reward them with a win.”
The Wild’s forecheck was real good. As I said, I thought the fourth line was fantastic, as was the Niederreiter-Staal-Stewart line that played once before in Columbus.
Martin Hanzal had a terrific forecheck to help set up the Pominville goal to make it 4-1. He now has 10 points in 15 games with the Wild.
“I think we had 9 retrievals off of forechecks in the first period,” Boudreau said. “Then on the very first shift of the second period Granny gets in on the forecheck and we have a great scoring chance. I think that's the whole buildup of the second period until we scored.”
Eriksson Ek said he wasn’t really tired despite his crazy travel two days ago to get here saying, “I'm pretty much used to it by now. It feels like I've been doing it the whole season. First here. Then back home to Sweden. Then World Juniors. I'm just glad to be back.”
On his line, the kid said, “They were helping me a lot. They were talking to me. They are two good guys that helped me out today.”
Good win for the Wild. We’ll see if the Wild can extend its point streak to four and actually get a two-game winning streak for the first time since Feb. 27-28 in Nashville.
Incredible news: Calendar flips to April after a hideous 4-10-2 March. Maybe that’ll be the tonic for the Wild.
Rachel Blount is covering practice Friday as I write my Sunday Insider and head to Nashville. Talk to ya.