This was pretty much what I expected tonight in Toronto, a grind-out-two-points and get-out-of-dodge victory.
Anybody who thought the Wild would just roll into Toronto and blow out the lowly Leafs hasn’t watched a lot of Wild games. Even through the Wild’s 13-1-2 road record under Devan Dubnyk and now franchise-record nine consecutive road wins, the Wild grinds out victories.
The scores of the 13 road wins under Dubnyk: 7-0 (OK, discount that one because it was in Buffalo), 2-1, 1-0, 4-2, 3-2, 4-0 (at Edmonton), 4-2, 3-1, 2-1, 3-1, 3-1, 3-2 and now 2-1 tonight.
This game was a scary one because the Wild was facing a bunch of underachieving veterans who have just been getting annihilated in town and a bunch of no-names trying to make a name for themselves. Ryan Suter said the first period was a feeling out process because you’re just trying to get used to how the Leafs would play and how these kids he never heard of would play.
What also made this game scary is the Leafs had zilch to play for. So after a string of tight-checking, defensive-minded, hard-fought contests against the playoff contenders, the Wild suddenly was playing a loose team that wanted to play run and gun hockey.
“We couldn’t generate our o-zone because our D had to make sure to stay on the blue line because they were sending one, two, three guys,” said Thomas Vanek. “It’s tough to play, especially the way we like to play, to cycle the puck and get deep in the o-zone. We couldn’t establish that o-zone time. But at the end of the day, got two points, so we can’t be too sad about that.”
Coach Mike Yeo said, “They were spreading us out. I don’t think we were necessarily playing as tight in our structure and with as much detail as we normally do, which allowed for some of those situations to build some speed. One area we definitely have to be better is with the puck. We didn’t manage the puck very well. We weren’t strong enough on it.”
Showing off its depth yet again, the Wild got two goals from the third line, one from Charlie Coyle off a Vanek rebound, the other from Vanek himself for, finally, a big 2-0 lead off a Suter drop pass 9:08 into the third. Six goals, four assists now on an eight-game point streak for Vanek.
Devan Dubnyk, who was so good, had his seventh shutout bid of the season ruined by the pride of Minnetonka High, Jake Gardiner, with 6:24 left, but Dubnyk made 17 of his 35 saves in the third period and lifted the Wild to a big W heading into Tuesday’s game against the Islanders.
All playoff contenders the Wild is battling with – Calgary, Winnipeg, Los Angeles – won, so unless Dubnyk says he can’t go, one would assume Dubnyk will start his 33rd consecutive game Tuesday. That would be the most in the NHL since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row in 2010-11.
The Wild’s PK went 4 for 4 tonight and is now 33 for 34 the past 14 road games.
2 of the PK’s came with Erik Haula in the box and Kyle Brodziak in the locker room for impressively standing up for Haula and Jared Spurgeon by confronting big, tough Dion Phaneuf, who once annihilated the Wild’s Stephane Veilleux in a memorable fight in Calgary (a game the Wild coughed up a 3-0 lead after the fight if I remember correctly; Jacques Lemaire was ticked), and fighting the Leafs captain.
On a PK, Phaneuf had checked Haula hard and then slashed Spurgeon, which is what ticked off Brodziak. The Wild gave bigtime props to Brodziak for the scrap.
“We have different guys step in for teammates at different times, but nobody’s done it more than [Brodziak] this year,” Yeo said. “And that says an awful lot to your teammates when you do something like that. Not that we want to play that game, but at the same time, there comes a time where if things are going the wrong way, you have to let the team know we have that pack of wolves mentality.”
But on an 18-second 5-on-3, Mikko Koivu won a massive draw to kill off the 2-man advantage and then the Wild killed off the rest of the power play in the waning seconds of the second to preserve a 1-0 lead.
The Wild lost 35 of 61 faceoffs, but Koivu won 15 of 26. Coyle won 1 of 10, but that one was the faceoff that led to his 11th goal and eighth point in 10 games. Tired of getting roasted by Trevor Smith, Coyle said he tried a new way to beat him by not even going for the puck and driving forward through him. Luckily, Justin Fontaine and Vanek also went with him, something he said he didn’t tell them to do. Coyle scored off Vanek’s rebound.
Humorously, I thought it was a set play. When I asked Coyle if it was, Koivu chimed in, “Keep it quiet,” to his teammate with a big, mischievous grin.
Coyle finally said when Koivu walked away and stopped being the peanut gallery, “Just happened like that, Van shot the puck and rebound. I didn’t tell Vanek to jump like that or Fonzie to go. And it worked out. I was just trying a new way to beat him.
“I don’t think we were playing our game, kind of going back and forth with them, and not getting pucks deep and leaving pucks up for grabs. They’re a good transition team. But we won.”
That’s it for me. Unbelievably early flight to JFK in the morning, so I have a wakeup call in three hours. As an old Islanders fan, my last emotional trip to Nassau Coliseum tomorrow (well, unless the Wild faces the Isles in the Stanley Cup Finals)!
I’ll be on Fox Sports North pregame and first intermission. I’ll blog whenever we have lineup information. Not sure the Wild will skate in the morning.