They didn’t skate together as a line for the first time until minutes before puck drop, taking rushes in warmup after chatting that morning.
And although they expect to improve as they get more familiar with each other, the first impression made by Zach Parise, Victor Rask and Pontus Aberg as a trio was effective enough to lift the Wild to a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night in front of an announced 19,054 at Xcel Energy Center. The three combined on the decisive goal — an encouraging finish to a tumultuous week for the team.
“We’re going to learn more about each other as we go,” Parise said. “[They’re] skilled guys, good on the offensive side. I feel like we could’ve had a couple more … but it was a good Game 1 for us.”
Parise made it 2-0 when he buried a feed by Aberg 17 minutes, 36 seconds into the first period for his team-leading 20th goal of the season. It marked the ninth time Parise has hit the 20-goal plateau in his 14 seasons.
Rask also assisted on the goal, giving him and Aberg their first points with the Wild.
“I felt good,” said Rask, who skated 15:22 in his Wild debut. “It’s a lot of fun to play with those guys and play a skilled game and a pretty fast game. I think we can do some good stuff out there together.”
Aberg was acquired in a trade Wednesday that sent minor leaguer Justin Kloos to Anaheim, while Rask arrived a day later from Carolina in exchange for winger Nino Niederreiter.
The Wild responded to that deal by crumbling to the Ducks 3-0 Thursday, with all three tallies coming less than eight minutes into the game. But the team had a much better start Saturday.
“You just use it as motivation to make sure we’re ready to come out tonight,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 19 saves. “It was pretty obvious top to bottom that everybody was ready to go.”
Just 1:29 before Parise’s goal, the Wild opened the scoring on a one-timer from rookie Jordan Greenway.
Center Eric Staal and winger Charlie Coyle earned assists on the play, another different line for the Wild amid its shake-up.
“When Eric and I are together, we like the puck below the circles and Charlie does great down there,” Greenway said. “He fit right in with us.”
The Blue Jackets cut their deficit in half during a penalty-laden second; only 3:07 into the middle frame, winger Artemi Panarin’s wrist shot from inside the left circle eluded Dubnyk. That was Columbus’ lone power-play tally in four tries, while the Wild went 0-for-4.
And although the Wild didn’t pull further away amid 29 saves by Bobrovsky, it also didn’t revert into a shell — exerting enough pressure to maintain its cushion.
“You can’t just sit back and try to hang on for dear life,” Dubnyk said. “We continued to press forward, and we pressed smartly.”
The result helped the group turn the page on an emotional stretch and embark on a two-game push before the All-Star break with optimism.
“We’re still right there in the mix regardless of how dark it’s been at times the last little while,” Parise said. “We’re still right there. Hopefully we can finish with a couple good efforts on the road then go into the break happy.”