With Joel Eriksson Ek ready to return after missing four games with an upper-body injury, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau could have slotted the center back between wingers Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin — one of the team’s most forceful lines before Eriksson Ek got hurt.
But since the team was still without captain Mikko Koivu, Boudreau felt he had to hold off on a reunion and instead put Eriksson Ek in Koivu’s spot on the second line.
And the decision was the right one Monday, as a balanced lineup fueled the 3-0 win over the Flames at Xcel Energy Center.
Not only did Eriksson Ek’s line contribute, but so did the Greenway-Kunin combination with Nico Sturm.
“I thought it might work out,” Boudreau said.
Known for his defensive prowess, Eriksson Ek didn’t just help out on that side of the puck in his first game since he was sidelined Dec. 14 following a hit from the Flyers’ Sean Couturier.
He also chipped in on offense, scoring the game-winner on a one-timer.
“It’s a good thing when all lines can score and help the team to win,” Eriksson Ek said.
Kunin was responsible for the second goal, also a one-timer, before assisting on center Eric Staal’s empty-net finish, and his line with Greenway and Sturm was dangerous throughout the game — a strong show of progress by Sturm, who had been filling in from the minors amid the recent rash of injuries.
“I got more confident as the week went on,” said Sturm, who was assigned back to the American Hockey League after the game. “As a new guy, you always kind of test how long your leash is a little bit and you go from trying to not make mistakes to trying to make stuff happen. I think I showed throughout the week that I can play here.”
Goalie Devan Dubnyk didn’t see the puck roll behind him, but he did catch the kick from the Flames’ Derek Ryan.
“I was pretty confident,” Dubnyk said.
And his vision was spot-on, as the only puck Calgary got by the netminder was one it forced in illegally with 6 minutes, 1 second remaining in the third — an overturned goal that helped Dubnyk to his first shutout of the season, a 22-save effort.
The win was Dubnyk’s second in as many starts since he returned to action last week after previously leaving the team in November while his wife, Jenn, dealt with a serious medical situation.
Add in a three-save showing in relief Saturday, and the 33-year-old has stopped 60 of 65 pucks directed his way since he’s resumed playing.
“It’s easy to let yourself worry about wins or losses or worry about getting scored on,” Dubnyk said. “I just tried to come back from the break and just go in and feel confident and be myself, and it feels good to go out there and do that and just forget everything else and then see where we are at the end of the year.”
The Wild had one more defenseman than normal on the ice for practice Sunday, welcoming former Gopher and Olympic gold medalist Lee Stecklein as part of the fourth annual Girls’ Hockey Weekend.
“That was really fun,” said Stecklein, who made the “Let’s Play Hockey” announcement ahead of Saturday’s game. “The guys were awesome. They were super welcoming.”
This was Stecklein’s first visit to Tria Rink since she scored the game-winning goal in overtime in March to help the Whitecaps capture the Isobel Cup in the team’s inaugural season in the National Women’s Hockey League.
Stecklein, however, isn’t playing this season; she’s among the group of players who decided not to play in 2019-20 until its demands for a single, financially stable league are met. But that hasn’t stopped Stecklein from working to promote women’s hockey.
“We’re looking to grow the girls’ game in any way we can, and they are, too,” she said of the Wild. “So, to be included in this and be a part of that, I know my teammates and I really value that.”