The Wild avoided the temptation of taking off on an early holiday Thursday night by rolling into the All-Star break with a 5-1 trouncing of the slip-sliding St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center.
After watching hockey leaguewide on his Center Ice package Wednesday night, coach Bruce Boudreau warned his team not to mentally vacate the Twin Cities early.
The Wild listened to its coach, played a complete game and entered the All-Star break with a 32-11-5 record.
With 69 points in 48 games, the Wild has the second-most points in the NHL and sits atop of Chicago in the Western Conference and Central Division standings by four points with three games in hand.
“We knew we wanted to go into the break with a good feeling. We sure did that,” said Nino Niederreiter, who scored a goal and had two assists for his second three-point game in the past five.
Mikael Granlund extended his point streak to a career-high nine games with a goal and assist. Niederreiter and Granlund scored 42 seconds apart by the 2:11 mark of the third period to drop-kick the Blues after captain Mikko Koivu’s power-play goal gave the Wild a 3-1 lead with 12 seconds left in the second.
Erik Haula also scored, as did Tyler Graovac, whose second career game-winning goal ricocheted off his left skate and into the net for an awesome birthday present for his dad, Tom.
“Tonight goes to show that if we have four lines going we’re a really hard team to stop,” Graovac said.
Devan Dubnyk, who now leaves for the All-Star Game with teammate Ryan Suter and Boudreau, made 24 saves for his 27th victory. He’s 18-2 in his past 20 starts and leads the NHL with a 1.88 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
“That was the guy that played the first 40 games,” Boudreau said.
Zach Parise created Haula’s goal 23 seconds into the second period of a scoreless game, and Boudreau lauded Parise as Minnesota’s best player. “He was all over the ice,” the coach said.
Vladimir Tarasenko tied the score, but after Niederreiter’s exceptional cut to the net crafted Graovac’s goal, the Wild took over.
“The temperature went up and we didn’t respond the right way,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We just turned so many pucks over. You can’t do that against this team. They’ve got too much speed, they’ve got too much tenacity.”
The Wild is 21-3-2 since Dec. 2 and 9-2-1 in January. Last season it took until March 3 and the 65th game to surpass 69 points. It is 17-6 at home and 15-5-5 on the road, including a franchise-record 13-game point streak. It leads the NHL with seven 30-plus-point scorers and eight 10-plus-goal scorers. It leads the Western Conference with 160 goals and 107 goals against and has the league’s best home power play (28.1 percent). It has scored four or more goals in 20 of 48 games and five or more goals in nine of the past 21 games.
It has lost consecutive games in regulation once, and its 11 regulation losses are fewest in the West.
“We have four really good lines,” Haula said. “We’ve been really good at picking each other up. Even if it’s not going for somebody, you don’t have that pressure this year, I feel like. Especially for our top guys, we just keep playing and we’re getting a lot of production from all around.”
Boudreau said of the balance, “It’s a different kind of team than I’ve had in the past, but it’s a very enjoyable one to coach.”
The Wild, which opens a four-game road trip after the break Tuesday in Edmonton, doesn’t return home until Feb. 8 when it opens eight consecutive games at home.
“We’ll go enjoy the weekend and step back a bit,” Dubnyk said. “This is fun. I think everybody will say the same thing, there’s no reason to stop what we’re doing, it’s nothing magical. We’re playing the right way and we can continue to do that.”