The Wild, wearing its Reebok reds for the final time with the team expected to move to Adidas greens at home next season, clinched home-ice advantage in the first round when the playoffs begin next Wednesday against Mike Yeo’s St. Louis Blues or Peter Laviolette’s Nashville Predators.
Blues are still the likeliest. They’re one point up on Nashville and have three games left compared to the Predators’ two. They also have the first tiebreaker (ROW, regulation/overtime wins).
Solid 5-3 win tonight for the Wild over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Things looked hairy when Devan Dubnyk and the Wild gave up three goals on six shots in the first period despite also scoring three times on 16 shots.
But Dubnyk showed what coach Bruce Boudreau called “mental toughness” by stopping all 24 shots he faced in the final two periods. He looked like a different goalie and was locked in during large chunks when the game was tied or the Wild was only up by a goal after Charlie Coyle’s eventual winner in the second.
The Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Zach Parise line combined for three goals and five assists (Niederreiter two and one and Parise one and two). Jordan Schroeder also scored and the Wild won its 27th home game, second-most in history. With 102 points, the Wild can break its franchise-record for best season (104 points) if it goes 1-0-1 or 2-0 in its final two games at Colorado and at Arizona.
The Wild did lose defenseman Jared Spurgeon 6:11 into the second with a lower body injury after a couple board battled with Teuvo Teravainen, but Boudreau said he doesn’t think it’s serious and Spurgeon will travel on the road trip.
Please read the gamer and notebook for most the details, but here’s a bunch of quotes from the game.
I’ll also be filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN from 9-noon Wednesday before my flight to Denver. My guests include Niederreiter, Mark Parrish, Lavelle E. Neal III and Anthony LaPanta.
On Dubnyk: “I was really happy because, I mean, obviously after the first period you’re a little nervous. They were Grade A shots and everything and all of that stuff, but you still look at the numbers – three goals on six shots – and you start to wonder. But I thought the mental toughness in the second and third period was really good, and he battled back, and that’s what you want to see.”
Does home ice mean anything?: “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’ve had home ice every year I’ve ever been in the league and I haven’t won a Cup yet, so I don’t know how important it is. I certainly am glad we have it. We have tremendous fans and hopefully they can make the difference.”
On the Staal line: “I’m pretty sure that they’re going to stick together. They were moving the puck, skating through the neutral zone with speed and they’re looking for each other. All three of them had good games. If they can continue to play like that and get confidence, boy, that’s a pretty good line to have confidence this time of the year.”
On Parise: :When Zach’s going, it really adds another dimension. It makes our balance better and makes it tougher to cover everybody on the team.”
On Coyle: “He’s getting a little used to the left side. He’s did a good job by going to the net. I thought he could have had one or two more the way he was playing. A lot of positives tonight.”
On how he’ll deal with the final two games: “I think we’ll discuss it with them. The last thing you want to do is get an injury. But every time I’ve coached a team and you start resting guys, everybody relaxes and it’s hard to get it back. We know it’s not the playoffs yet. You know you’re playing Colorado and Phoenix, but at the same time, you want to keep your good habits and you want to make sure you’re playing the right way. Because once you don’t play the right way, it’s hard to get back to doing that stuff. We’ll look at the lineup and see who’s healthy. We have three extra players, so I’m sure we’ll use everybody in the next two games.”
On home ice: “It is nice. We haven't got that before. That was one of our goals this year, to get that, and we accomplished it. So I think that'll be huge for us.”
On playing well the past few games: “It's been good. It's what we needed. We knew we were going to turn things around. We started to do that, kind of got back to our game. It's good to do that at the right time here to enter the playoffs confident. We want to keep building to get to the top of our game. That's going to be key.”
On attacking the net: “We don't mind those goals. When we play like that we just get the puck in behind them. A couple good faceoff wins and just going to the net. I mean, we'll take those garbage goals all day. That's the type of goals we're going to get when we play that way and when we play that way we're tight defensively and we'll get those opportunities. It doesn't matter how we score in this league. It doesn't have to be a pretty play. We are realizing that more and more. Just do the simple things, get to the net, win those battles, and we'll get it.”
On Dubnyk bouncing back: “It wasn't just him. It was all of us. A couple of those goals were backdoor or a one-timer from the slot. He doesn't have much of a chance on those. He's a great goaltender, but those are going to go in on most every goalie. It wasn't our best. We didn't play our best in front of him but we came back. He's a goalie who's confident. He comes right back, battles right back after a period like that. He came back and made some big saves for us and that's huge, that's what we need from him, that's what we expect from him, and that's what we know we're going to get that from him. He's a competitor and that's what we need here down the stretch.”
On home ice: “Hopefully that'll be the difference for us. We played really solid earlier in the year here and we're starting to get that mojo back at home. I think any team that has success, has success at home in the playoffs.
On home ice: “It's not an easy thing to do in this league, in this conference, in this division. That says a lot about the consistency that we've been having. You've got to be consistent to be able to be second in the whole conference. Numbers don't lie. Like I said, every year around this time of the year you get what you deserve. It says a lot about the team since Game 1 all the way to here. Now it's just about getting better and preparing ourselves.”
How special was is it to wear your dad’s helmet and gloves during warmups? “It was great. I was happy my mom was able to dig it out of one of his old bags, and I think the guys got a pretty good laugh out of it, but for me it was special, and I know for my mom it was too, and my brother. So it was cool to wear his gloves, and his helmet, and it was neat for me.”
On his line: “I thought we did a good job. We got that one early, and I thought we could’ve had a few more. We supported each other really well. Nino protects the puck really well in the zone and goes to the net well, and we had some good chances and good looks, and hopefully we stay together and we’re able to learn more about each other and where the other guy likes to go and build up that chemistry a little bit.”
Home ice: “It’s great. We love playing here, especially in the postseason. We’ve talked about it before a lot, how alive this building becomes and how great it is for our team to play home playoff games, and now we get the opportunity to start here. So hopefully we’re able to take advantage of that.”
Does he expect his line to stay together: “I mean, we’re in game 80 now. Who knows? We could show up tomorrow and it’s going to be different. But like I was saying earlier, we did play well together. We support each other well on the ice, communicated well and knew where each other were going, and as far as right wing, you know what? I like it. I really do. There’s a lot of options coming in the zone, making plays on the opposite side. There’s still a lot more to learn and get better at yet, but I’m working on it and I’m enjoying it.”
On the first period: “It was a weird, definitely a weird start. Seems to be a few of those the last month. The good news was we were tied and we had a great period, just a couple mistakes that ended up in chances and that was really it. I think it’s an opportunity to kind of draw from situations that happened over the past month. End of the day, you’re tied 0-0 and again, it’s an opportunity to go out there and feel good. I just let the puck come to me, I think that was the biggest thing. I just wanted to make sure I went out there and wasn’t chasing the game around because I hadn’t seen many shots. It was nice to settle in. Those ones are always special at the end of it to be able to buckle down after a first period like that.
On the final two periods: “We were great tonight. We’ve been generating a lot of scoring chances by putting pucks to the net and going to work in the offensive zone. That’s what we’ve been doing all year. There’s not very many, but obviously some big opportunities that we can clean up when we are playing a period that well, but those are just small things. We’re talking 98 percent of the game, we’re extremely sharp, so it’s pretty easy to get that final two percent. We were pretty tough to play against, as we’ve shown all year.”
On the pregame ceremony: “It was really cool. Those are moments and memories you never forget. Sometimes, it can be awkward because there is so much focus on you individually when this is such a team game and team sport, but it’s a special milestone and it’s something I’m proud of. I love being out there and I love the opportunity to play this game. To be recognized and to have my family, parents and people that mean the most to me to enjoy it with, makes it even better.”
On his line: “We were dialed in. I thought we were on the puck really well. Both my lineys were forechecking really well, we turned a lot of pucks over and we’ve got some good players that can make plays. Would have loved that first one, almost had too many thoughts going through my head as I fired it, but we were able to cash in right after with Zach’s, so that was nice, got the ball rolling. It was nice to win this one and we can enjoy the night.”
Has recent stretch calmed things down, on clinching second in division: “Yeah, no question. It’s been good the last week and a half, finding a little bit more of our identity and what we’re going to need coming into the playoffs. We wanted to make sure that we locked down home ice here tonight and we were able to do that in the first round. That’s good; this is a great building and a great atmosphere. We’re a good home team and we gotta use that to our advantage. Keep trying to build our game and be smart about what we do with our bodies to be ready and perform at the top of our game once Game 1 starts.”