Too bad the Wild sits idle the next three days, because it has rediscovered its long lost October mojo.
Coming off a three-game western Canadian sweep, the Wild would have no first-game-after-a-long-road-trip blues on Tuesday night. The Wild played what coach Mike Yeo said was “probably” its best game of the season during a fourth consecutive victory — a 3-0 whipping of, uh, road-weary Chicago.
The Blackhawks were so badly outplayed, they looked as if they had just spent long hours doubling down in blackjack, throwing dice at the craps table and dropping money on the Wild before leaving Las Vegas, where it spent the past few days enjoying the Super Bowl.
“It was just incredible work by us,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said after making 24 saves for his third shutout in eight starts with Minnesota. “It just shows us how great of a team we are in here. To go up against Chicago and be so relentless for the entire night, we were just right on top of them.
“They couldn’t make any plays. It was fun to watch.”
Facing the team that knocked it out of the past two playoffs, the Wild had the puck seemingly all night and used goalie Corey Crawford for target practice.
At times, the shot clock looked like a keno board as the numbers next to the Wild kept going up and up. The Wild registered a franchise-record 24 shots in the second period, outshot the Blackhawks 35-14 through two periods and 43-24 for the game.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said the Vegas vacation was no excuse, credited a Wild team coming off a “big trip” and “happy to be home. … They beat us to all the loose pucks early, got the lead and shut us down. They had speed and we didn’t have any. We didn’t get to the net at all.”
The Wild was so persistent, it even outshot Chicago 3-1 on a second-period Blackhawks power play. Moments after it expired, Zach Parise stopped a Blackhawks clearing attempt with his butt and set up Mikael Granlund for a 3-0 lead. That caused a fan eruption that was brewing while Corey Crawford, who stole a Chicago victory on Jan. 8 in St. Paul, was doing everything to keep the deficit to two.
Captain Mikko Koivu scored the winning goal, had an assist and seven shots. Jason Zucker scored a scintillating breakaway goal, defenseman Marco Scandella had an assist and tied a franchise-record for defensemen with eight shots and Dubnyk improved to 6-1 with the Wild.
“We looked fresh, we looked fast,” Scandella said of the Wild, which lost eight of its previous 10 (2-4-4) at Xcel Energy Center. “That’s the type of game that we have to bring every night, especially at home. We get a lot of energy in this building from our fans and we have to use that to our advantage.”
The Wild looked solid right from a first shift in which Zucker hit the post. Jared Spurgeon picked off Chicago clearing attempt and Jason Pominville’s centering feed led to Koivu’s goal, then Zucker took Scandella’s home-run pass for a beautiful 18th goal.
“We didn’t sit back after,” Koivu said. “We tried to create more and that’s a good thing.”
Yeo spent the day trying to make sure his team brought urgency into Tuesday’s game. He called it a “very big game” because with other playoff contenders having games while the Wild’s off, “a lot of ground we made up [during the 3-0 road trip] could have been lost.”
On Jan. 13, the Wild lost 7-2 in Pittsburgh for its sixth consecutive loss and 12th in 14 games. Dubnyk was acquired Jan 14 and the Wild is 6-1-1 since.
“It’s tough when you get into a skid like we were,” Zucker said. “We had to battle to get out of it. We’ve done that so far. But we can’t stop now. We’re still in a hole. We just have to keep getting these wins. ”