Well, this one made up for some of the games lately where the Wild got none or one point and deserved better.
Tonight, the Wild deserved less than two points Devan Dubnyk stole, but they say things even out. If you remember early last season, the Wild outshot the Kings 42-16 in Los Angeles and Jonathan Quick stole a 2-1 win.
2-1 victors were the Wild tonight to move back into the eighth and final playoff spot. The Wild leads Colorado, which has lost stars Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene to injuries, by a point.
The Avs host the Flyers on Thursday, the Wild hosts Calgary in Niklas Backstrom’s return to Xcel Energy Center. I’ll have a story on Backstrom for Thursday’s paper.
Dubnyk made a season-high 38 saves tonight. He covered up for his teammates umpteen times.
In the third period alone, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jared Spurgeon – all good players – off the top of my head blatantly coughed up the puck in the defensive zone with careless plays that led to bigtime scoring chances.
But every time, Dubnyk was there to save the day. John Torchetti was fiery all game on the bench. At one point in the third, he lit into Jason Zucker on the bench after a poor shift, it appeared.
The Wild had FOUR shot attempts in the first period and was outshot 39-18. The shot attempt total was 74-32 in favor of the Kings. Torchetti said the Wild didn’t recover more than 75 percent of its dump-ins.
He said the Wild needs to be more committed to battling and checking, no more stick checks and taking the body more.
The Wild defended hard though tonight mostly because it had to. I thought guys like Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter were real good in the Wild end. Brodin had five of the Wild’s 19 blocked shots.
“It comes down to commitment,” Torchetti said. “We’ve got to come underneath the puck more. The first couple shifts, we didn’t all buy into being underneath the puck, we were still trying to make those simple plays with stick checks. We’ve got to go stick on puck, underneath the hands and then through the chest. We’ve got to do a better job of committing to that. We got away with one, but that’s playoffs. Like I told them, I thought our third period was better. Some nights, the opposing team is going to be better than you. But you’ve got to stick to your game plan. We got a big power-play goal from Mikko and we did a good job there. That’s a playoff-type game. Some nights, you’re not going to be 100 percent, but you have to stick to your game plan and we did in the third. I liked our third period a lot and moving forward, I like that poise a lot better. Duby got us two points and we have to rebound better going into the Calgary game as a team.”
Koivu’s power-play goal, his career-high 10th, which is tied for 14th in the NHL, would amount to the game-winner and was the highlight of a power play that was hard to watch all game. But the Wild went 1 for 4 and killed two Kings power plays. The Wild’s penalty kill is now 15 for 15 the past eight games, although a couple goals have gone in soon after PK’s.
Erik Haula continued his hot hand of late. He scored the game’s opening goal 12 seconds after the Wild killed his high-sticking minor on former St. Cloud State rival Nic Dowd in his NHL debut. I was impressed with Dowd. Big, confident, strong on the puck.
Haula now has 12 goals – seven goals and 16 points in 19 games under Torchetti. He is riding a career-best six-game point streak.
The Kings, if it gets the top spot in the West, could be the Wild’s first-round matchup if the Wild gets in. It would be the classic size vs. speed series. The Wild’s now 12-4-4 in its past 20 at home vs. the Kings, who fell to 9-2-1 in the second of back-to-backs. The Kings have rallied for eight wins this season when trailing after two periods, but the Wild and Dubnyk held them off.
Haula said Dubnyk stole the win. Suter said the Wild just didn’t have it and Dubnyk rode it to two points.
“From the start to the very last second, throughout the game, he was great, and he got better and better towards the end,” Koivu said.
Said Dubnyk, “Every point we can get feels good. We knew that was a big, strong team and they played a pretty good game, but we said after, every game is not going to be perfect, but you have to find ways to win games. We battled right to the end of that one, and it feels good.”
Dubnyk said he realized early he’d have to be on top of his game. Everybody saw that the way the Wild was playing.
“It just means you have to be sharp, and understand that you're going to get some work. Sometimes those are fun games,” he said. “I feel good. I’m just trying to be myself out there, and relax, and find pucks, and trust everybody. All of us are at our best when we’re trusting each other, and that’s myself included. These guys have done a great job in front of me, and it gives me a lot of trust in what they're doing. That helps my game.”
Now the Wild needs to keep its foot on the gas and not having any letdowns. Too often lately the Wild gets back into that top-8 and then sags. We saw that against Ottawa and New Jersey.
But, as of now, it’s back in the top-8 with a three-game winning streak.
“Every game, we have to play desperate,” Suter said. “We need points. We know Colorado is a good team, and we just have to take care of our own business.”
That’s it for me. My editor Chris Miller is covering Wednesday’s practice. Jason Pominville is expected to practice for the first time in more than two weeks. I’ll have that Backstrom article in Thursday’s paper.
As usual, please go to startribune.com/wild for the game story and the notebook, which has much more details on the game and what’s going on with the team.