All the hype leading up to puck drop Saturday was surrounding the Avalanche’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
After all, the trio had just combined for 10 points the night before in a win over the Senators.
“That’s probably the best line in the world right now,” winger Mikael Granlund said.
But once the game finished, it was the Wild’s offensive leaders – not the Avalanche’s – who had the most impact – lifting the Wild to a 3-2 victory that extended the team’s win streak to five games.
“Every team’s guys that are counted on always want to be a difference maker every single night,” center Eric Staal said.
Granlund and Staal each tallied a goal and an assist; add in winger Jason Zucker’s performance, and the trio totaled five points. Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen had two, a last-minute goal from Landeskog that Rantanen assisted.
The Wild’s best players shined when it mattered most, breaking a 1-1 tie in the third period when Granlund set up Staal – a reward Staal could sense coming with how the team was in control to start the period.
“It felt like we were carrying some momentum 5-on-5 with our line with some consistent shifts,” he said.
Containing Colorado’s first unit is often easier said than done, but the Wild didn’t shy away from the test.
Instead, players embraced it.
“They said, ‘Good. We want the challenge,’” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The Wild will attempt to extend its win streak on the road, as it’ll play its next seven games away from Xcel Energy Center starting Monday in Vancouver.
That’s not the only positive from this stint at home to keep an eye on as the team leaves St. Paul.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin had a stellar game against the Avalanche; he and defensive partner Jared Spurgeon were matched up against Colorado’s top line for much of the night and did a terrific job limiting the unit to only two points.
Brodin skated 17 minutes, 36 seconds and became the first Wild defenseman to score a game-winning goal shorthanded. He also had the decisive goal Thursday against the Kings.
“It could have been Brodin’s best game of the year,” Boudreau said.
After a 0-for-14 slump, the power play finally capitalized – once the Wild added a right-shot to its all-lefty lineup on the first unit.
Center Charlie Coyle replaced winger Nino Niederreiter, and Granlund fed Staal for the one-timer in the third period.
“It wasn't working,” Boudreau said. “You can only go so long. Me and [assistant coach] Dean [Evason] talked about it between periods, so he had a chance to talk to the guys and tell them that we're going to change the units up a bit so it wasn't just thrown over the boards. They knew what they were going to do.”
The other half of special teams also came up clutch for the Wild, with the penalty killers surviving all six Avalanche power plays. They were also perfect Thursday, going 4-for-4.
“I think a big part of it is the down-ice pressure and getting the puck down the ice and not allowing the other team to come in clean is such a big part of the penalty kill,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “If we're shaving a minute, 1:15 off where they're just trying to get into our end, it's just a 45-second kill and then guys can work hard."