The upside of keeping the Wild intact has been on display in recent days, a groove discovered by the current regime that points to its potential to remain competitive so long as everyone stays involved.
Then again, this rhythm could also be viewed as how the team responds to a shakeup since the Wild’s improvement came on the heels of losing a longtime member of its core — evidence, perhaps, that the team may not only be able to withstand more subtraction but maybe recalibrate stronger from it.
Both interpretations make sense, but neither suggest which direction General Manager Paul Fenton will actually take before the NHL trade deadline expires at 2 p.m. Central time Monday.
What will hold true regardless of his choice, though, is that the Wild is entrenched in a legit battle for a playoff spot after it flipped back into the Western Conference’s second wild card Sunday by outlasting the Blues 2-1 in overtime in front of 18,645 at Xcel Energy Center. The victory ended a six-game slide on home ice and extend its overall win streak to three.
“I guess you can look at it either way,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We’re making the decision tough on Paul, and I think that’s what he wanted. That’s what he was asking us to do, make it hard on him, and it’s not an easy job for him at all. But we got to a spot where we have an opportunity to stay together as a group. We’ll see what happens.”
That newcomer Ryan Donato has been the face of this upturn likely only muddies the debate. It’s proof of how someone can capitalize on a new opportunity but also a case to not mess with the team chemistry to which Donato has so seamlessly adapted.
In his first home appearance since being acquired on Wednesday from the Bruins for forward Charlie Coyle, the line in the sand for the Wild in each scenario, Donato scored the clincher 2 minutes, 29 seconds into the extra period when his shot from the edge of the left faceoff circle eluded goalie Jake Allen, who totaled 33 saves.
“A goalie never really expects a shot from outside, especially the position that I was in,” said Donato, whose first goal with the Wild — and fourth point — was his seventh tally this season. “So I just tried to fire it off guard through the guy’s legs or stick, and luckily it went in.”
The ending perfectly showcased just how much the Wild has progressed in a short span.
A week earlier, it was bulldozed 4-0 by the Blues at home — a loss that accentuated its offensive drought and the unease in net since Dubnyk didn’t get the start.
But now, Dubnyk is on a roll, stopping 86 of the last 90 shots after a 27-save outing. And the go-to scorers have resurfaced.
Winger Jason Zucker buried a centering feed from center Eric Staal 11:42 into the second for his first goal in 11 games, which signaled the team’s first tally at home in 187 minutes, 42 seconds — a stretch that surpassed the previous scoreless streak record of 180:07 at Xcel Energy Center.
Staal’s assist was his fourth point in his past three games.
The power play came up empty at 0-for-3, and the penalty kill went 1-for-2; the Blues evened it on a point shot from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo that clipped center Joel Eriksson Ek’s shin pad en route to the net 7:26 into the third. It was the 18th power-play goal given up by the Wild over its past 16 games and capped off a 16-0 run in shots for St. Louis.
But the Wild was unfazed, holding off the Blues while shorthanded (winger Pontus Aberg left sick after the first period) until Donato’s first career overtime goal and game-winner gave management plenty to mull overnight and into Monday.
“I thought our guys didn’t play like they were worried about the trade deadline today,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They played like they want to make the playoffs.”