Remember the lede to my game story seven games ago in Feb. 11’s paper after the overtime loss in Winnipeg?
Of course you do because I know you don’t only read the blogs and my prolific Twitter account (please follow at @russostrib)!
The lede was, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
That’s what the Winnipeg Jets had to be feeling with the Wild surging from the rear … since the All-Star break.”
I think it’s OK if I recycle my own material, right?
The Wild’s right on the Jets’ back now.
Inside the top-8 for the first time since Nov. 24 courtesy of tonight’s six-goal, third-period eruption and 6-2 win over Dallas, the Wild is two back of the Jets for the top wildcard spot with two games in hand. The Wild’s also potentially eyeing a top-3 spot in the Central, which would be an automatic playoff berth. The Blackhawks are slumping and the Wild’s suddenly six behind Chicago with one game in hand.
“It’s a good feeling because we never could kind of break that plane,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We kept winning and we’re always one point back, it seemed.”
The Pacific is a nutty logjam with three teams – Los Angeles, Calgary and San Jose – tied one point behind the Wild’s 69. But the Kings are inside that top-3 Pacific Division threshold with 68 points. The Canucks won today and are second in the Pacific with 71.
Crazy game tonight.
The Wild got off to a decent start, couldn’t score and the Stars had to love getting out of the first period scoreless after playing the night before and because we all know the Wild loves playing with the lead, outscoring opponents 20-6 in the past 17 Dubnyk first periods.
Jason Spezza then snapped the Wild’s 32 for 32 penalty kill streak in the second period with the first power-play goal against the Wild in 13 games (Jan. 20). The Wild got itself in penalty trouble with three penalties that period, including back-to-back ones by Mikko Koivu.
The Wild also was frustrated because it couldn’t buy a call despite spending long stretches in the offensive zone. It’s bizarre that you can have the puck as much as the Wild, yet it has drawn eight power plays the past six games, four the past four.
Normally when you spend 90 seconds in the offensive zone buzzing and get hooked or held, refs will give you the benefit of a whistle and award you for the effort. But that hasn’t happened lately, the Wild started to show its frustration, especially coach Mike Yeo, who lost it on Brian Pochmara. Yeo said the Wild did his best to get his team’s concentration back on the task at hand and not the officials after the outburst.
During the second intermission, it’s almost like the Wild realized it was playing an opponent that played the night before at home (a wild 7-6 overtime loss to Detroit). Oh, and that the goalie was Jhonas Enroth.
In November, Enroth gave up five in a 6-3 Buffalo loss in St. Paul. On Jan. 15 – Dubnyk’s debut in Buffalo, Enroth gave up seven goals in one of the worst home losses in Sabres history and the most lopsided win in Wild history (7-0).
Tonight, Enroth, one of the goalies the Wild inquired about when it was beyond desperate and since traded to Dallas, stopped 20 of 20 after two periods. Most hit him in the Stars logo though. Finally, the Wild attacked in the third and beat him six times, a franchise record for goals in a period.
Zach Parise scored twice and Koivu, Stephane Veilleux (fifth career winner), Matt Dumba and Mikael Granlund once. Granlund had three points and Christian Folin registered his first career multi-point game. Dubnyk made 18 saves, has now allowed 27 goals in 17 starts, is 13-2-1 and the Wild is 13-2-2 with him in goal and 11-1-1 since the All-Star break.
The proverbial four-point game hit Dallas hard. The Stars are now six back of Minnesota with the loss. Would have been two with a win.
So, a lot of words and numbers, but long story short, Enroth has given up 18 goals in three games this season against the Wild.
The Wild has won six in a row at home and won the season series with Dallas, 4 games to 1.
The gameplan tonight was simple, Yeo said. Invest in the game early by getting pucks deep and forcing the Stars’ defensemen to retrieve pucks over and over so the team tires by the third. You may not see the results early, but stick to it and it’ll pay dividends in the third. Yeo felt the plan worked as the Wild certainly came out swarming in the third.
It started with Folin making a smart play to take Parise’s exchange in the left faceoff circle and walk up the wall. Folin said he recognized that the forward had a bad gap, but he drove left as Parise drove the net from the far side. Somehow, Folin executed a backhand, cross-crease pass from those left boards to Parise for the tying goal 1:40 in.
Said Parise, “That was a really, really nice pass. Backhand, across the crease, not a lot of room. That was right on the money.”
I’ll repeat again: Folin is going to be a player. This guy has size, mobility, a big shot and smarts.
Said Yeo, “He’s typically viewed as a guy that will make his living as being a shutdown solid defensive player. But I do think there is more to him than that and it’s up to us to keep developing him that way.”
Koivu scored 1:43 later and after Veilleux scored, the rout was on.
Yeo talks glowingly about all the plays the Wild D made tonight to help offensively and defensively. They were all real good.
Amazing how well Dumba and Folin are playing. I still believe the Wild needs to acquire a defenseman by the deadline, but maybe it’s just a depth defenseman to have in case of injuries because Dumba and Folin certainly look like they can play right now. Once Jared Spurgeon returns, the Wild will have 7 defensemen up here, but as we have seen lately with Spurgeon’s injury and the Marco Scandella scare in Edmonton (skate to ankle, and he suffered another one tonight that he came back from) and the Jonas Brodin scare tonight with the puck to the head, you can’t have too many NHL defensemen and right now the only other defensemen that are around to be called up are Justin Falk and Jon Blum.
Also, you have to hand it to Yeo with these lines. These last three games, the Wild has had balanced scoring up and down the lineup from all four lines. Everybody is contributing, which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that Jason Zucker, who was up here in the press box tonight and looking good, is out long-term. Same thing with Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter.
Again, it’ll be interesting to see how GM Chuck Fletcher handles this. You’d like to add another forward for depth, but maybe you don’t need to go add that quote-unquote Jason Zucker replacement when guys like Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and others are stepping up.
One leaguewide issue one GM I talked to this morning told me: There’s like 6 sellers in the league and 24 buyers the way the standings are shaping up. So all teams are having trouble making a trade right now (there hasn’t really been one rental trade yet; the Cody Franson-Mike Santorelli deal was more a hockey trade). The supply-demand equation is making the sellers drive up prices for mediocre players at best. And as I’ve reported to you, if Fletcher is understandably unwilling to trade his first-round pick (if the Wild misses the playoffs, you could potentially be trading Connor McDavid if you trade the first since all non-playoff teams can win the lottery) and he doesn’t want to trade his second after trading three in the past two deadlines, it’ll be hard to make a significant trade without trading prospects. The price of rentals usually cost in that second-round range (see Matt Moulson trade).
The Wild’s inside the top-8. Pretty amazing.
But the way the Western Conference jockeying goes, it may only be temporary and there is sure to be a roller coaster of emotions the final 23 games.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Yeo said. “Yesterday we were outside of the top-8 and I don’t think that it meant anything and tonight we’re inside the top-8 and I don’t think it means anything.”
He said what has made this team so good is the sense of urgency it has played with and its preparation going into every game. He said the Wild can’t lose that. “We’ve got ourselves back in the hunt and now we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Added Dubnyk: “All we can do is win the games that we have and we'll be on the right side of it at the end. There's a lot of confidence in here.”
Talk to you after Monday’s practice.