COLUMBUS, OHIO – The goaltending is better.
So is the defending and the penalty kill.
But what’s boosted the Wild up the standings, hoisting it within a point of a playoff spot, is a historic glut of goals.
“We’re not overcomplicating it,” Jared Spurgeon said. “We’re just playing hockey.”
After blitzing the Blue Jackets 5-0 Friday in front of 18,955 at Nationwide Arena to secure its third straight win and fifth in its last six games, the Wild tied a franchise record for most goals in a three-game span at 17.
The last time the team did that was April 7-11, 2009.
“Nothing fancy,” Spurgeon said. “Just getting pucks in and holding on to them and once we do that I think as a unit of five out there we’re able to move and create some more offense.”
Despite starting the week with a 5-4 win over Columbus at home and then getting a touchdown Thursday in Detroit during a lopsided 7-1 rout, the Wild still had enough in the tank to sweep the two-game trip – pocketing its fifth straight victory on the road to hurdle idle Arizona and sit a point shy of the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference. It was the fifth time in team history the Wild has scored at least five goals on consecutive days.
“We are supporting each other really well, making small plays and allowing us to get full possession,” Zach Parise said. “It makes the offense easier.”
Like it did against the Red Wings, a well-balanced attack paced the Wild.
Each goal came from someone new, and 11 different players secured at least a point. Parise was the headliner with three points. Kevin Fiala and Jordan Greenway had two points apiece.
And while the surge in scoring has been a catalyst, the Wild’s play in its own end has also improved.
Interim coach Dean Evason went back to goalie Alex Stalock for a second straight night, and Stalock rewarded that decision by pitching a 24-save shutout — the ninth of his career.
Stalock’s four shutouts this season are tied for the fourth-most in the NHL and since Jan.16, he’s tied for first in the league in wins (9) and shutouts (3).
“Al played really well,” Parise said. “Guys are playing hard. Guys are working hard. It’s been fun.”
What helped the Wild take control in Columbus was two goals in 34 seconds in the first period, a lead the team wouldn’t come close to surrendering.
Greenway fed a drop pass to Joel Eriksson Ek at 6:12 that Eriksson Ek flung behind Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, Eriksson Ek’s career-high eighth goal.
On the very next shift, the Wild capitalized again on a similar play since Fiala handed off to Spurgeon for a shot off the rush at 6:46. Spurgeon’s eight goals since Jan.18 are the most among NHL defensemen.
“Our start was key,” Evason said.
The Wild had another two-goal outburst in the second.
Ryan Hartman redirected in a pass from captain Mikko Koivu 10:52 into the period for his second goal in as many games. Their line with Ryan Donato now has 14 points over the last three games, including six goals.
And only 1:38 after Hartman’s goal, Parise was left all alone in front to slide the puck five-hole on Korpisalo for his team-leading 22nd goal.
The Blue Jackets pulled Korpisalo after that, making it consecutive nights the Wild chased a goalie from the game. Korpisalo made 11 saves on 15 shots. His replacement, Matiss Kivlenieks, made 10 stops.
Before the final horn sounded, the Wild tacked on one more on the power play when Fiala buried a loose puck at 12:20 of the third to help the unit finish 1-for-3. Columbus went 0-for-2.
Fiala continues to be a force for the Wild, amassing 19 points over the past 13 games. His 47 points are the most on the team.
“We got a lot of depth throughout our lineup,” Greenway said. “That pays huge dividends for the team knowing you can rely on all four lines to score when you need it.”