Action was at 4-on-4, but Wild coach Bruce Boudreau’s instructions to forwards Marcus Foligno and Eric Fehr as he ushered them over the boards were treat it as a penalty kill.
“We both looked at each other and said, 'OK,’” Foligno said.
But the two didn’t just prevent the Wild from getting scored on; they delivered a goal, the first of the night en route to a 4-1 victory over the Kings Thursday at Xcel Energy Center that stretched the team’s win streak to four games.
“He told us to play it like a penalty kill,” Fehr said. “I don’t think that's exactly how we played it, but it worked out well.”
As Foligno led the rush on the left flank in the first period, he swung the puck to the front of the net where it banked off Fehr as he was literally crashing the net – bumping into it as he was getting taken down by Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin.
“Even if it doesn't go in, we're drawing a penalty to even it up,” Fehr said. “So it was a good play by him.”
The play was reviewed, but Fehr’s redirection counted – just the third time this season the Wild has opened the scoring.
“It's huge for us,” Fehr said. “It's a tough grind when you're playing from behind the whole time. To score the first goal and come out of the first period with a lead is great because you can see in the dressing room the guys are a little more encouraged by it. It's great, especially when you're playing at home, you want to make sure you get the first goal.”
The goal was the second contributed by the fourth line in as many games, and Foligno and Fehr getting a look during 4-on-4 was a reward for another strong effort from the two – which did include a chunk of time on the PK. That unit went a perfect 4-for-4 against the Kings.
“Sometimes you just look at the players and they’re playing good, and they deserve to be out there,” Boudreau said.
The Wild’s prowess with the PK no doubt helped it hold off the Kings, as Los Angeles had three straight looks with the man advantage late in the third while the Wild was ahead 2-1. Although more discipline and awareness is key – rookie Jordan Greenway was whistled for playing the puck as he was stepping out of the box without having both feet on the ice – the Wild certainly seems to be finding a groove while shorthanded.
“You never want to have to kill three in a row like that, but we're feeling strong with our groups,” Fehr said. “We're keeping the same guys together. We're getting a little chemistry there, too. That was a big one for us tonight to be able to kill those off and get a win and keep the streak alive.”
One of the Wild’s four power plays came after Kings winger Kyle Clifford tripped up Greenway in the first period, contact that sent Greenway tumbling to the ice. Defenseman Nick Seeler immediately challenged Clifford to a fight and received praised after the game for his actions.
“It just tells you a lot,” Boudreau said. “Players sticking up for players, that’s what it’s all about. If you want to become a team and a team wants to become a family, that’s what you do. Nobody takes advantage of any one of your players.”
After a practice Friday, the Wild will play its last home game for a while Saturday when it hosts the Avalanche. Perhaps that’s when winger Nino Niederreiter will finally bust out of his scoring slump, as he showed encouraging progress Thursday when he acted as the screen on the game-winning goal from defenseman Jonas Brodin.
“It’s going to happen,” Boudreau said. “He’s too good of player to stay like this forever.”