ST. LOUIS – Devan Dubnyk got what he wished for Thursday night.
One day after saying the Wild needed to get back to playing “simple road games,” the way it did when it reeled off road win after road win during last season’s second half, the Wild waltzed into Scottrade Center and began a four-game trip by playing a tight-checking, defensively snug game.
In a game played without injured Wild winger Zach Parise and sick Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko, the Wild ushered in the new year by getting a complete performance, two goals from its brand new Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine third line and a 3-1 victory.
“That was perfect. That’s exactly what we talked about,” Dubnyk said after a 33-save performance. “It’s nice to get that feeling of how we can win on the road.”
It was the Wild’s second regulation regular-season win in St. Louis in 16 visits since Oct. 20, 2007, and its first win on New Year’s Eve in six years.
Niederreiter, Haula and Fontaine combined for five points as Niederreiter scored one goal and set up Haula’s winning goal with 8 minutes, 33 seconds left after winning a relentless board battle behind the net.
“Great response by Fonzie [after being scratched Monday against Detroit], probably Haulzy’s best game of the year, and Nino I thought was a horse all night,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Nino was physical, he played a big boy’s game. He was strong on the wall, strong down low in the offensive zone controlling pucks and really helped us get to our game.”
Thomas Vanek’s empty-netter sealed things as the Wild, 15-1-1 at one point on the road during last year’s second half, improved to 6-5-5 on the road.
“It was important to get out there and make sure we end the year right,” Niederreiter said. “2015 was a solid year, and I just wanted to make sure it ended on a good note.”
Midway through the third period, Niederreiter fended off defenders behind the net and finally lifted Robert Bortuzzo’s stick, knocked the defenseman down, took the puck and fed Haula along the goal line. From a sharp angle, Haula, elevated from the fourth line the past two games after recently being scratched three games in a row, swept home his first goal since Nov. 10.
“Wherever I am, I want to play,” Haula said. “I want to play every night, I want to keep building my game, a never-be-satisfied kind of attitude.”
After Kevin Shattenkirk’s power-play goal in the second, Haula assisted on Niederreiter’s tying goal with 3:48 left in the period. Fontaine took a shot, and Jake Allen perfectly served up a rebound for Niederreiter’s eighth goal.
Dubnyk, after giving up only one goal in Monday’s win, was stellar from the start and the Wild really gained momentum in the third after an unyielding cycle by Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu.
“As the game wore on, I really did feel that we started to get to our game, started to have a little bit more push and get a little bit more speed through the neutral zone and more time in the offensive zone,” Yeo said.
It was an even game for the most part, but the Wild stayed patient, forechecked hard, was solid in the neutral zone and ultimately capitalized.
“It was just a good game for us, a good, solid game,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Nothing fancy, doesn’t have to be pretty. At times tonight it wasn’t.”