It felt like a Wild home game after Friday’s 7-4 win over the Florida Panthers.
As the press elevator started to descend, there was an unmistakable, loud “Let’s Go Wild” chant coming from the BB&T corridors as vacationing and very satisfied Wild fans departed this entertaining game and streamed onto the fast-paced streets of … Sunrise.
You have to hand it to coach Bruce Boudreau.
The gutsy coach has no set way he drives a hockey game. He reacts on instinct, whether it’s changing lines or shortening the bench or, in this case, not worrying about fracturing Darcy Kuemper’s already shaky confidence by pulling him in a 3-3 game to start the third period because he wanted these two points badly and felt Devan Dubnyk offered the Wild the best chance of achieving that.
“I just thought that was such an important game that we did it the last time and it worked,” Boudreau said, referring to the Winnipeg win 10 days ago when he pulled Kuemper after the Jets made it 5-5 in an eventual 6-5 Wild win. “I wanted to get this win as bad any other. I thought it was important for the team to get this win because the next two games we’re in Chicago and Washington. … I didn’t want anything to spill over. My thought is if this was the World Series or something, you’ve got your best pitcher in the bullpen, you’re going to use him.
“It didn’t have anything to do with third goal. I wanted our best goalie in at that time.”
The third goal Boudreau was referring to was a bank shot from a corner wraparound Kuemper surrendered to Jaromir Jagr a mere 61 seconds after the Wild rallied to take a 3-2 lead on goals by Staal and Jason Pominville 2:01 apart.
Dubnyk made a puck-handling booboo to start the period shaky and allow Florida to take a 4-3 lead, but the Wild didn’t succumb, tied the score at 4-4 on Staal’s second goal of the game 2:27 later and the Wild dominated from there during a 19-shot third period and season-high 46-shot game.
Seven goals (yes, two empty-netters) after scoring five goals in the previous four games to snap a modest two-game losing streak and dial down the FREAKING OUT in the Twin Cities, and frankly, maybe its coach, too.
The line-juggling master that is Boudreau unveiled four much more balanced lines against the Panthers than in my opinion he had in Tampa Bay, and the Wild rolled with a smothering forecheck and hardly looked like a team that played the night before and suffered a bad loss the night before.
“If they work like that all the time, they’ll stay together like that all the time,” Boudreau said of the lines.
What’s more, the Blackhawks have suddenly lost two in a row, so the Wild’s now three up on Chicago heading into Sunday’s NBC showdown and final regular-season meeting before what potentially could be a second-round showdown.
Staal two goals and an assist to hit the 20-goal mark for the 10th time and 50-point mark for the 11th.
Charlie Coyle empty-net goal, an assist, four shots on goal, nine shot attempts and coming one game after having five shots. Great foundation to build his game, these last two.
Zach Parise the winning goal with 5:07 left and an assist.
Jason Zucker a goal and an assist.
Jonas Brodin two assists.
Pominville a goal and an assist.
Mikael Granlund an empty-net goal and an assist.
Dubnyk 11 saves to match his career-high in wins (36).
Contributions up and down the lineup with Boudreau praising everybody from the lively Erik Haula line to Martin Hanzal, calling him a beast and saying you could see why they acquired him.
Other than a penalty, Hanzal drew a penalty, had an assist, three shots, five hits and won 12 of 22 draws. By far his most impactful game.
“I thought we played well,” Parise said. “We didn't play well the last two [games]. But you know what, I think that means that we've set the standard pretty high, when it feels like panic sets in when we lose two games in a row. That means we're doing some good things this year. Yeah, we didn't play great for two games, I hope that today we learned some things about how we need to score. We got to the net really well. And were able to put some in.”
On why the forecheck was so good, Parise said, “I'm not sure we were doing anything different. I think we had better legs. I think we were getting in on the puck. I think we had better dumps, too. We didn't give them as many goalie touches. And we had good rims that I think we were able to, I know the last goal, there was a rim, and we were able to get some offense off of that. So that's something that we'll have to look at. But I thought we just had better legs forechecking.”
Boudreau said, “Both teams kept coming back. You just never knew. It was an entertaining game, but it’s one of those that make coaches hearts stop.”
Staal said, “I thought our start was actually pretty good. I mean the first ten minutes especially. But then they got some life on the power play. Tough one on the other one, off the rush, and we're down 2-1. But we collectively got it back together there at the start of the second. It was a good game. A couple goals either way that coaches probably don't like, but we fought hard all night, and it was nice to be rewarded after last night.”
That’s it for me.
One big concern? Blue-line depth. Gustav Olofsson sustained an upper-body injury against Tampa Bay that GM Chuck Fletcher is not prepared yet to say is day-to-day. Mike Weber is hurt with Iowa, so Mike Reilly is next in line and maybe only in line, kinda sorta.
Wild’s off Saturday. Barring news, no blog as I write an advance on the Hawks game.
I’m assuming the Wild won’t be “cocky” and start Kuemper, so NBC should be thrilled.