The hockey gods have a flair for the dramatic.
For the first time in NHL history, two teams have concurrent winning streaks of at least 12 games, and they just so happen to meet Saturday at 5 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.
Both the Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets accomplished what they needed to tonight – WIN – to set the table for what I’ve dubbed the Clash of the 2000 Expansion Titans on New Year’s Eve.
The Wild, winners of 12 in a row and without a regulation loss in 13 straight games since Nov. 29 (12-0-1), vs. the Blue Jackets, winner of 14 in a row and without a regulation loss in 16 straight games since the day before Thanksgiving (15-0-1).
Amazing job by John Tortorella and his group. They started the season 0-2. They’ve lost three games in regulation since.
The Wild beat the New York Islanders tonight, 6-4, to tie a franchise record with its eighth consecutive home win and post its first 12-win month in history. This is now the second-longest winning streak in Bruce Boudreau’s NHL coaching career. He has coached four double-digit streaks in his career.
The Wild is now 14-1-3 since Nov. 19.
Crazy game: Mikael Granlund, who had a fantastic game, set up Marco Scandella for a 1-0 lead, but after Jason Pominville was checked off a puck behind his own net, Andrew Ladd set up Jason Chimera.
In the second period, Nick Leddy scored a power-play goal and the Wild suddenly looked on its heels and almost panicky.
But for the second game in a row, Boudreau elevated Jordan Schroeder to the Eric Staal line and downgraded Pominville to the Tyler Graovac line.
Instantly, the 2-1 deficit turned into a 4-2 lead with three goals in 1:20 by Chris Stewart, Jared Spurgeon and Schroeder for the fastest three goals in Wild history.
Ryan Suter, who had 10 shot attempts and three blocked shots, had assists on the Stewart and Spurgeon goals 35 seconds apart.
The Wild has outscored opponents 44-22 in the second period for a league-best +22 goal differential in the middle frame.
But Erik Haula and Ryan Strome took roughing minors at the 20-minute mark, that started the third period on a two-minute 4-on-4 and Brock Nelson turned that 4-2 Wild lead into a 4-4 game by the 1:37 mark with goals 42 seconds apart, the fastest two goals in history by a single opponent in a Wild home game.
But with 9 ½ minutes left, Nino Niederreiter took a shot that ricocheted off both of Erik Haula’s legs for the eventual winner. Granlund, who had seven shots and was plus-3, scored the Wild’s league-leading 11th empty-net goal to seal the deal.
Boudreau on moving Schroeder up: “You do what you feel during the game, I don’t know. I made a couple changes that didn’t work out, as well. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose with that.”
On the craziness of the game: “It seemed crazy because we haven’t done that. I think Vancouver was the last time we allowed more than three goals. I thought overall it was a sloppy game. There were a lot of turnovers at the blue lines and stuff that we have to get better at. It’s tough to stay at that standard all the time, but if you want to continue winning, you’ve got to get better managing the puck and getting it deep because when we did the right things, we were successful.”
On the Wild-Jackets matchup: “I don’t even know if I want to come to the rink tomorrow. I know it’s going to get a lot of airplay, but you know what? We’re going to treat it like another game. I know it’s going to be tough for the players because I’ve got to believe that it’s going to gain national attention just because it doesn’t happen too often what’s going to happen, but we’re going to try to stay focused and do what we do right and then whether you win, whether you lose, we want to make sure we’re playing the right way.”
On Pominville’s play lately (first point in seven games, no goals in 13, soft wall plays): “I’m not worried. People have games they wish they had back, but I have a lot of faith in him, and I’ll just keep throwing him out there because he’s a responsible player and a guy that knows what it takes to win. When I took him off the line, I thought, ‘OK, this is going to work on the fourth line because I thought Stewie and Grao were playing pretty good, and I thought the balance would be better shifted. That’s why I did that early. As it turned out, in two shifts, both lines scored. We got lucky there. But I have no problem with Pommy at all.”
On the win streak: “They have a will to win. I mean, they like this. I’m sure Columbus is the same way. They like winning. Columbus gets down early and they say, ‘OK, we’ve got to pick it up a notch,’ and they’re able to do it. It’s a very tough stretch. There’s not too many teams that get to where Columbus is. I think they have points in 16 straight; to continue to do that is a tough job.”
He got into it with Anders Lee, who basically slew-foot Jason Zucker and Dubnyk tonight, late. Dubnyk was upset Lee skated through the crease and got him in the head in the final minute, so he two-hand whacked Lee and Lee retaliated by, like I said, hauling him to the ice with a slew-foot.
Dubnyk is irritated with the officiating: “It’s like the fourth time this year it’s happened. They just cut across and I get hit in the head. I’m well inside my crease and all they’re doing is waving the goal off; it’s a penalty, it’s dangerous, it’s how guys get hurt. I didn’t need to wind up and slash him but it’s frustrating, because like I said, it happened in Nashville when we were shorthanded, no call. It’s not about no goal, it’s a dangerous play. You see guys get hurt like that. I’m in my crease, it doesn’t matter if we’re up by two. They say they’re going to protect us, that’s a dangerous play. It’s not that he’s trying to do it, I don’t think he was trying to come through, but it’s what it is.”
On Saturday’s matchup: “We’re going to enjoy this one right now. We knew that one was going to be a story, but the important thing was to get this one. You’ve gotta win games every which way and that was a big response by us after a tough start to the third period and come out like that.”
Craziness of tonight: “We were just putting a lot of pressure on them and relentless down there. We have the capability of doing that with how quickly we were in their end. That’s probably not the way we want to start a third period, obviously, 4-on-4 and a couple of odd-man rushes, but with our group, we just buckle down, we got back to playing the way we needed to play and we’re all comfortable in tie situations, regardless of the score. We know we’re going to get a big play from somebody.”
How much talk of the streak: “Not a lot. It’s fun, we talk about winning being fun and that’s the truth. We’ve all enjoyed it in here, we’ve all got a lot closer throughout this stretch. We certainly don’t want it to stop. But we’ve done a real good job of just going one at a time and looking at the next one and that’s what we’ll do this time.”
Expansion cousins meeting for the big clash: “It’s an interesting scenario for sure, not one you’d expect to line up this way, especially when we only play them twice a year. But it’s going to be a fun game, obviously, with the way they’re playing. But it’s another game. We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing and try to feel good about our game and if we do that, we should be good.”
How did rally happen- “It was looking a little scary there in the second period then we got a bounce there, put one home and I think we got another three there in a couple of minutes. So, started to turn the tide there. I don’t think we were ready to start that third period there and it just goes to show you how quick things can turn. We got a big goal for Haulzy’s line and that’s all she wrote.”
First time in NHL history teams with this long winning streaks meet- “That’s nuts. I guess they’re going to play it up like we’re big rivals. But at the end of the day, they’re Eastern Conference and we’re Western Conference. Someone’s got to win and we’ll see what happens then.”
Way you responded after Nelson show how steady things are right now- “Yeah, I think that’s just us going as a team. In this league, no lead is safe, and we’ve got a resilient club here and we’re not going to quit. It takes 60 minutes to win and as you can see, we put together a good second half.”
Game Winner- “We broke the puck out nice and just trying to create some room for Nino, and I just felt it hit my feet. I just saw it go in. I guess when you’re playing well, you get bounces like that sometimes.”
What will Saturday be like- “It’s quite interesting. We’re just going to prepare like it’s another game and just try to play like we’ve been playing. Try not to think about them too much, just try to focus on our team and what we can do, maybe, better.”
When is the last time you felt out of a game- “That’s a good question. It just feels like whatever the situation is in the game, we have that confidence in ourselves to just keep pushing forward. Obviously you lose some momentum in the third. They score two quick goals to tie it up. You just got to keep going and we just have that feeling on the bench and in the locker room that whatever the situation is that we keep playing the same way and we’re going to be fine.”
On his celebration: “It’s tough in this League to score a goal, so when you get ‘em, you’ve got to be excited.
On momentum shifts: “That’s hockey sometimes, the ebbs and flows of the game. We were able to keep that momentum riding. Every line contributed and it’s fun when you’re playing that way. Obviously giving up that lead right away in the third wasn’t good, but [we] stuck with it and we grinded one out.
On Wild-Jackets game: “It’s just another game. I know all the media’s gonna hype it up, but to us, it’s just focus on that one game just like we did tonight. We got prepared for the Islanders and now we’re gonna get ready for [Columbus].”
On being parachuted into winning streak: “It’s been great. I just want to contribute every night. Obviously getting the opportunity to play with two All-Stars is pretty fun. I just want to keep it going, keep working hard.”
Big day Friday.
Wild practice at 11, Blue Jackets at 1. I’ll be at both. Also, we’re doing a video podcast at Hell’s Kitchen at 4, so please come down to that. I’ll be on KFAN during the 5 o’clock hour, and my guess, there will be other multi-media appearances. I’ll also be on Fox Sports North on Saturday.