VANCOUVER – The standings are no secret, but when the Wild gathered last Monday in suburban Edmonton after the All-Star break, player after player repeated Mike Yeo’s mantra that they were done standings-watching.
“We’ve got to win. There’s no other way to put it,” Zach Parise said at the time. “It’s going to be very hard. But we’re not going to quit.”
Sunday night, the Wild returned to the Twin Cities with three victories in the books, holding on for a 4-2 victory earlier in the afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks and only the second three-game western Canadian sweep in team history.
“It means it gives us a chance,” Thomas Vanek said after his third-period snipe gave the Wild a 3-0 lead. “We all knew if we lost one or two of these games, we’re out of the picture. This way we have a chance and that’s what we wanted.”
The Wild’s still in 12th place, still chasing four teams for the eighth and final playoff spot and still five points behind Calgary (the Wild gained only two points on the Flames despite going 3-0). It did gain six points on seventh-place Winnipeg, trimming a 14-point deficit to eight heading into an upcoming three-game homestand.
But as Yeo said after the Wild’s fifth win in seven games (5-1-1), “We said nobody was going to quit in our room.”
“It’s great to get that feeling,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “You look at the standings, it’s what you need right now. It’s so tough to gain ground. You have to go on a good streak, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of just looking at the game in front of us and not anything else and that helped us out on this trip.”
Sunday’s finish was, as Dubnyk said, “hairier” than the Wild would have hoped. Its 3-0 lead was chopped to 3-2 with 6 minutes, 39 seconds left when Ronalds Kenins and Daniel Sedin scored 61 seconds apart.
But three days after blanking Calgary, Dubnyk held strong to the end and finished with 35 saves. In nine periods, 180 minutes and three wins at Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, Dubnyk stopped 88 of 91 shots (.967 save percentage). In seven consecutive starts since being acquired from Arizona, Dubnyk is 5-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
“Dubnyk came in and gave the guys the spark that we needed,” Vanek said. “From there, I think every defenseman, every forward trusted him and then built their own game up.”
Dubnyk’s solid play in an 11-save first period allowed the Wild to settle into the game, then Parise (seventh goal in seven games, 21st on the season) and Jared Spurgeon broke a 0-0 deadlock with goals two minutes apart in the second. Off an odd-man rush, Vanek’s 10th goal 7:08 into the third came off a bomb from the right circle against his former Buffalo Sabres teammate, Ryan Miller.
“I’ve played with him for a long time. I’ve scored a lot of shots on the glove side, so I went the opposite and it worked out,” Vanek said.
It capped a strong all-around game by Vanek, who was solid defensively and even had four hits, crushing Chris Higgins and Alex Edler.
“He played the type of game that he deserved to score a goal,” Yeo said.
With the Wild in hang-on-for-dear-life mode, Ryan Suter chipped a puck off the glass. But speedy Jason Zucker outraced the Canucks to negate the icing and ice the game with an empty-net goal, his 17th.
The Wild has done the three-game western Canadian swing on the same road trip 12 times. Captain Mikko Koivu was actually part of the Wild’s previous sweep in March 2007, although he had no recollection.
“It’s always tough,” Koivu said. “On the road, it’s never easy to get points in this league. I thought the way we played, too, was a good sign. Very good road hockey. Good play defensively.”