WINNIPEG – Where it happened, how and against whom started to matter less and less.
That’s how desperately the Wild needed a win after dropping five in a row for its longest skid of the season.
But because the team finally prevailed against the Western Conference leader in a building where it has had limited success, the details that led to the Wild holding off the Jets 3-1 Saturday in front of an announced 15,321 at Bell MTS Place are worth remembering — even more so if the effort sparks a trend.
“For 60 minutes, top to bottom, I think it’s as good as we’ve played in a long time,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The Wild still has plenty of work ahead to undo the damage from a 7-12-1 showing over its past 20 games, a point Boudreau emphasized when he said, “We didn’t win the Cup,” after outlasting Winnipeg.
The team is still shy of a playoff berth, has yet to cure its scoring slump with a dominating offensive performance and hasn’t won three consecutive games since early November.
“We put ourselves in a situation that it can’t be just one game or two games,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “It’s gotta be a lot of games in a row.”
And what could help the team get on a roll like that is the template it utilized Saturday.
“You could just see every line that came on the ice focusing on exactly what the job was,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “Just real smart plays and just sharp, hard-working shifts almost every single time over and over. Playing like that’s going to win a lot of hockey games. This is a really big game for us.”
From the drop of the puck, the Wild looked like a group determined to persevere.
It outhustled the Jets, funneled pucks toward the front of the net and didn’t give Winnipeg’s stars much room to operate — a committed start that resulted in an early advantage.
Defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who made his team debut after getting called up from the American Hockey League before the game with Nick Seeler sidelined by an upper-body injury, wove a shot through traffic 9 minutes, 28 seconds into the first — a much-needed lead considering the Wild fell behind in all but one of its previous five losses, a span in which it corralled just five goals.
“We were just playing real smart and that was creating chances for us,” Dubnyk said. “It was fun to see Barts get that goal from the point, and we never looked back.”
That lead doubled 2:17 into the second when center Charlie Coyle picked up a loose puck after winger Luke Kunin’s shot was blocked by defenseman Jacob Trouba and wired it past Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who totaled 22 saves.
It was the Wild’s first two-goal lead since Dec. 13 against the Florida Panthers, which was also its last victory.
Winnipeg wrecked Dubnyk’s shutout bid 7:21 into the third on a power-play goal from winger Patrik Laine. The Jets finished 1-for-2, while the Wild didn’t receive a power play for the third time this season.
But Dubnyk was steady the rest of the way, a terrific response to being pulled the previous game after giving up three goals on 10 shots Thursday nen route to a 5-2 loss to Chicago.
He finished with 26 saves, and center Eric Fehr added an empty-net goal at 19:13 — sealing the Wild’s first win in Winnipeg since Feb.28, 2017, after going 0-5 last season, including three losses in the playoffs.
“We didn’t give them too much in the middle,” said winger Zach Parise, who had two assists. “We played a pretty tight-checking game.”
This was an important step for the Wild, especially with tough tests on deck in Pittsburgh and Toronto, but it’ll be even more significant if it’s a preview of what’s to come.
“It snowballs if you let it,” Coyle said. “We just have to keep our foot on the gas.”