Same template for a victory as most the Wild’s victories in Denver today.
Weather an early physical storm, wait for the game to settle down or the Avs to tire themselves out or whatever and then ultimately wait for the Avs to make mistakes and take control en route to two points.
Honestly, it’s the same game almost every time the Wild visits here. The Wild’s 17-3-4 in its past 24 in Denver, 12-2-1 vs. the Avs since Game 3 of the 2014 playoffs and 8-1-1 in the past 10 meetings. The Wild went 4-0-1 against them this season and today sounded like it had home-ice advantage with tons of Wild fans in the house.
Early today, Erik Johnson nails Zach Parise seconds into the game to attempt to set a tone. Cody McLeod floors David Jones on one shift, then gets into the face of Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly. Nick Holden hits everybody in sight.
At the end of one period, the Avs had a 20-5 shot advantage and the score was 0-0.
At the end of two periods, the Wild outhit the Avs 7-5 and the score was 2-0 on the way to a 4-0 win, fifth consecutive win and five-point lead in the wildcard race over the Avalanche.
“We talked about that,” Parise said. “We anticipated that happening and making sure we just kept playing smart. We knew it was coming. We did a good job of not retaliating, not getting rattled. They had a couple big hits early, and it didn’t faze us, it didn’t bother us. We knew we had to play the game eventually.”
Added Devan Dubnyk, who made 22 of his 29 saves in the first two periods for his 19th career shutout, “That’s what they bring, especially here. They come out flying here, looking to take the body and intimidate you a little bit. They’re always talking. I don’t know if they think it’s scary, but we do a pretty good job of sticking to our game and we weathered the start in the first period and got right to our game and stuck with it for the rest.
“You want to get through that, keep being simple. You’re going to get some chances if they’re coming to hit, so just being simple. We don’t have to do anything special in the first 10, 15 minutes of the game. Just make sure we’re not turning the puck over and we’re not getting killed out there and then we’ll get to it as the game goes on.”
The Wild has six games left vs. Chicago, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit, at Winnipeg, vs. San Jose and vs. Calgary.
The Avs have seven games left at Nashville, at St. Louis, vs. Washington, vs. St. Louis, at Nashville, at Dallas and vs. Anaheim.
They are the only team in the NHL that is playing a team currently occupying a playoff position the rest of the schedule. They’re also without arguably their two best players, injured Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon.
“When you think about where we were in November we never quit, so why should we quit today?” coach Patrick Roy said. “I know the schedule doesn’t favor us, I hear it. But at the same time we have a game in hand. Let's just play our games and play the way we're capable of. It's obvious that our home record this year hasn't been good enough, but let's go on the road and let's see what we can do. This group tonight, even if we didn't play well in the second half after they scored that first goal, didn't quit. They kept working and you can tell that we lost a bit of our focus. This is the type of group that we have.
Parise, who broke out of his slump Thursday against Calgary with a hat trick, scored two goals on seven shots (11 attempted). He had three takeaways, none better than his perfect read at the offensive blue line when Mikkel Boedker put the puck into the skates of Mikhail Grigorenko in the second.
In instants, Parise stole the puck, sped into the zone, fed Mikael Granlund at the far circle and then buried Granlund’s pass after he faked a shot. Granlund picked up his 100th career assist on the goal.
The body blow came with 21.3 seconds left in the period when Justin Fontaine slipped a puck in for Schroeder alone. His chip redirection heading wide was knocked in by Semyon Varlamov himself for Schroeder’s second goal.
“The way we played in that second period was embarrassing,” Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie said. “You know, we gave it away. I thought we were doing a good job controlling the game and I thought we were playing well up until the latter half of that second period. We just kind of, I don’t know what we did, we just laid an egg. We started giving up odd-man rushes, turning pucks over, not getting it in deep and that’s ultimately what cost us.”
The Wild, 5 for 5 on the penalty kill and 24 for 25 in the past 10 games, killed two penalties in a row to start the third. The Avs then took a penalty themselves and Parise sniped a beauty for his team-leading 24th goal and fifth in two games. Ryan Suter picked up his 400th career point. The goal looked very much like Mikko Koivu’s power-play goal the other night against the Kings.
Parise said they made a power-play adjustment during the second intermission because of the way the Avs were killing.
“They take away a lot of the low plays and we saw they left the middle of the ice open. When Ryan [Suter] had the puck and walked it across, there was a big gap in the middle. We talked about it between periods and it ended up working in the third.”
Parise had 35 points in his last 26 games including the playoffs against Colorado, the most by far in the NHL.
“It’s just one of those teams, I guess, but I think our team has done a really good job against these guys,” Parise said. “Going back a few years, we’ve played some huge games against them. We’ve always come in and played well here, we’ve played well against them and we were able to continue that tonight.”
John Torchetti’s team is 14-6-1 under him with a league-high 68 goals.
“We knew they were going to come out with a push, we knew they were going to be physical, we knew they were going to try to run us right out of the building. We expected it and a couple answers were done out there. Zach did a great job of a counter hit by the bench and was asking for more. We knew we were ready to battle. That’s what it’s all about,” Torchetti said.
The Wild’s in a great position now, but Torchetti said, “Until you’re in, you’re just never happy. That’s the bottom line. That’s why it’s game by game. Anyone can make up points.”
On winning five in a row since losing 7-4 in New Jersey, Torchetti said, “I wasn’t worried about it. Everyone else was worried, but I wasn’t. I trust this team and we’ve got to trust each other. The accountability is there, the work habits are there. That’s the number one thing you see. When everyone is committed to the team first mentality, good things happen.”
Justin Fontaine assisted on Schroeder's goal today, but Torchetti didn't seem pleased with his two penalties. Maybe that'd be enough to get Jason Zucker back in the lineup.
The Wild has now won five straight games with Zucker or Thomas Vanek a healthy scratch, though.
In other news, the Wild signed University of Minnesota junior defenseman Nick Seeler to a two-year, entry-level deal starting next season and is in the process of signing Notre Dame senior forward Mario Lucia, sources said.
The Wild will also soon talk with Boston College sophomore Alex Tuch and University of Minnesota-Duluth junior defenseman Carson Soucy to see if they’re ready to turn pro.
“It was tough decision, but it just came to me and felt like the right decision,” Seeler, 22, a 2011 fifth-round pick, said. “It’s a great opportunity. The Gophers treated me so well and were going to welcome me back with open arms, but I just feel I’m ready to move on.”
Seeler, an Eden Prairie native who will graduate this summer (so he won’t go to Iowa now), missed a year after transferring from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. During his junior year with the Gophers, he had 10 assists in 36 games and led the team with a plus-21, 43 penalty minutes and 91 blocked shots. He’s expected to start with AHL Iowa next season.
“He played in a shutdown role and we envision him playing a similar role at the pro level,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He’s a highly competitive kid, defends well, is a good skater and physical.”
Lucia, a 2011 second-round pick who led the Irish with 21 goals last season, finished this year with 24 points. He is set to graduate in May and could start in Iowa on an amateur tryout.
With all college prospects, when Tuch and Soucy are ready to meet, Fletcher will present them with the pros and cons of leaving school and will first talk to their college coaches.
There’s a lot of hype with Tuch, who appears intrigued about turning pro after his sophomore year. The 2014 first-round pick led the Eagles with 28 points last season and has 17 goals and 33 points this season. He scored two goals in Boston College’s win over Harvard on Friday.
Like I’ve written all year, I think he signs after this year.
That’s it for now. No practice Sunday. Talk to you Monday.