After placing above his stall the badged St. Paul Police Department hat he was just presented by a teammate for being the Wild’s Hero of the Game, Zac Dalpe turned toward a semicircle of reporters and cameras Thursday.
“I’ve never had so many friends before,” Dalpe said, smiling, after the Wild’s latest come-from-behind victory, this one 3-2 over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
An up-and-down minor leaguer who has journeyed the pros for eight seasons but has only 123 games under his belt, the 26-year-old Paris, Ontario, native was a popular guy after the Wild completed a 3-0 homestand.
Dalpe sparked a third-period comeback with a tremendous individual effort en route to the tying goal. Then, Eric Staal, Dalpe’s former Carolina Hurricanes teammate for 41 games spanning three seasons, capped a terrific game by scoring his second goal and eventual game-winner, the 48th of his career and first with the Wild.
“That’s what you work hard in the summer for,” Dalpe said of his goal. “I thank my brother [Clarkson University junior forward Ben Dalpe] for playing defense all summer. We had some one-on-one battles, and I came out on top, he came out on top.
“It was nice to get a goal. An Ontario kid scoring against the Leafs, it was a pleasure for sure.”
Looking for a spark with the Wild trailing 2-1, coach Bruce Boudreau swapped Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter to start the third period, pushing Niederreiter down to the fourth line.
On their first shift together, Niederreiter pushed a puck ahead for Dalpe. Instead of head-manning a pass to Teemu Pulkkinen, Dalpe lugged the puck up ice, dragged defender Connor Brown with him, cut to the net and tucked a shot inside the post.
It was his 12th career goal and second for the Wild in nine games, including last year’s playoffs. He made the most of his ice time, logging 7 minutes, 44 seconds, taking three shots and winning all six of his faceoffs.
Dalpe knows rookie Joel Eriksson Ek is pushing for his job while in Iowa. Boudreau, a former minor league journeyman himself, sees something “familiar” in Dalpe.
“You have a little extra place in your heart for the minor league guys that come up that have played most of their life [in the minors],” Boudreau said.
Staal, who scored a breakaway tying goal in the second period, gave the Wild the lead with 8:07 left. With Zach Parise battling on the forecheck, Staal found a loose puck in the corner. Surveying his options, Staal saw Parise beat his guy off the wall. He centered himself and tried to lay it back post for Parise. Instead, the puck slid by Parise and goalie Jhonas Enroth for Staal’s third goal of the season.
“I never felt like I forgot how to play,” Staal said, referring to a couple of tough final years as Carolina’s captain.
It capped a nice game from a player who wasn’t pleased with his previous game. Said Boudreau, “Real good players, they bounce back because they’ve got a lot of pride.”
Devan Dubnyk was sharp as a tack early and made 31 saves. He got lucky late when Auston Matthews, who scored a power-play goal in the second, and William Nylander each hit iron.
The Wild has allowed the first goal in all four games, rallying to win three. That occurred five times in 36 occasions last season (5-25-6).
“I told them, ‘All we have to do is win a period. Take it down to 20 minutes. You win the period. You win the game,’ ” Boudreau said.
After a season-opening loss in St. Louis, the Wild’s now 3-1 and heads to New Jersey, the Islanders, Boston and Buffalo.
“It’s going to be important for us to get those points,” Dubnyk said.