WASHINGTON, D.C. – Center Luke Kunin hasn’t played this deep into an NHL season before in his career, while winger Jordan Greenway has made only one previous push to the playoffs.
Same with fellow winger Ryan Donato.
But the lack of experience with pressure-packed games that have a postseason berth on the line doesn’t seem to be fazing the Wild’s rookies, not after the three led the team to an impressive 2-1 win over the Capitals Friday at Capital One Arena to swing the Wild back into the second and final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
“It's great to kind of feed off each other for the young guys and maybe create something, a great line,” Donato said. “Hopefully we can kind of build off what we did tonight.”
The three were superb against Washington, contributing both goals and combining for four points.
Greenway had the first, a workmanlike-effort in which he swooped into the Capitals’ zone, shrugged off winger Tom Wilson and cut to the middle before wiring the puck by goalie Braden Holtby.
“It was good effort by Donny,” Greenway said. “He made a great play on the wall, and I saw a lane to the net and put my head down and put my knee out and just kind of put it in.”
In the third, Kunin scored another highlight-reel goal – a blistering wrist shot that went top-shelf on Holtby to break a 1-1 tie.
Donato assisted on both goals, his sixth multi-point game with the Wild, and he has 15 points in 15 games with the team since coming over in a trade with the Boston Bruins last month.
“Keeping things simple,” Kunin said about his line’s mojo. “Getting pucks in on the forecheck, having a third guy high, playing with a guy like Greener down low. Not many people can get it from him so if you get in the right spots, those guys are going to find you.”
The effort by the rookies, however, wasn’t the only catalyst.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk was solid, making 21 saves and chipping in an assist on Greenway’s goal. And with the Wild still in desperation mode, he’ll be back in net Saturday when the team concludes this back-to-back in Carolina against the Hurricanes.
“It’s at that crunch time,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You gotta play your best all the time.”
At a spotless 3-for-3, the penalty kill was clutch – especially against Washington’s top-10 power play.
Even more impressive was the unit’s ability to shut down shooting lanes, as the Capitals got off only one shot with the man advantage. And it didn’t belong to superstar Alex Ovechkin.
“We’re having to use so many different combinations with [Joel Eriksson] Ek out and [Mikael] Granlund and [Charlie] Coyle gone,” Boudreau said. “So tonight I thought [Jason] Zucker was really good on the PK, and Matt Read did his job on the PK. So all of those things were really good.”
Overall, the Wild’s defensive posture against the Capitals was stout.
Washington racked up an eyepopping 58 shots in its previous game but was limited to 22 Friday.
“We spent a lot of time in their zone,” winger Zach Parise said. “We broke them down a lot below the goal line. We didn’t want to give them rushes because we know how good they are off the rush and how they can make plays off the rush. We wanted to slow them down in the neutral zone, and I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job at that.”