WASHINGTON – How the Wild’s season will end is still up in the air, uncertainty that should make the final two weeks of the schedule intriguing if not outright entertaining.
But what’s already a given is that the 2018-19 version will be remembered for its impressive, and perhaps uncanny, knack for knocking off the NHL’s best teams. That habit continued Friday when the Wild waltzed into Capital One Arena and blitzed the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals 2-1 and jumped over Arizona and Colorado to reclaim the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 79 points.
Not only could this trend help decide the Wild’s fate, but it may also give the club an edge in this three-team race for that final berth since all its remaining opponents are ahead of it in the standings.
“With our schedule, it’s going to have to be the same for every game from here on out,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “If we play like that, even though we might not go 7-0, it’s going to give us a really good chance.”
What would also improve its outlook is if its class of youngsters continue to dazzle like it did against Washington.
The all-rookie line of wingers Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato and center Luke Kunin was responsible for both goals, with Kunin delivering the clincher 12 minutes, 25 seconds into the third period. Overall, the three combined for four points; Donato had two assists.
“They deserve it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They’re playing well, especially at this time of year. It’s great for now, but it’s 10 times better for the future.”
While the Wild has struggled at home this season, especially against lesser opponents, it’s been remarkedly better on the road. And that switch flipped again Friday.
Greenway opened the scoring 16:33 into the first on a jaw-dropping individual effort in which he cut around winger Tom Wilson and bulldozed to the middle ,where he deked before wiring the puck past goalie Braden Holtby.
The goal was Greenway’s first in 13 games and marked the team’s first 5-on-5 tally in three games.
Donato’s assist on the play notched the franchise’s 10,000th point, and Dubnyk recorded a rare second assist to go along with 21 saves. He’ll be back in action Saturday against the Hurricanes.
In the second, the Wild was even more aggressive and had the Capitals scrambling at times amid 15 shots. The lone blemish on the period was Washington’s tying goal, a deflection by winger Brett Connolly at 10:42.
But that didn’t slow the Wild. The team continued to test Holtby, who totaled 25 saves.
“My goal at that point was get through the next five minutes because if we could get through the next five minutes, everything sort of slows to our pace again and it did,” Boudreau said.
Kunin’s go-ahead goal in the third, a top-shelf wrister off the rush for his first tally in 11 games, was the 24th by a Wild rookie, tied for the fifth-most in the NHL. It sealed the Wild’s 20th road win — just the fourth time in franchise history it’s reached that mark — and grew the team’s stash of signature performances.
And because of those previous victories over Tampa Bay, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vegas and Toronto, the Wild had the confidence to persevere against the reigning champions in their building.
“It just shows the character in the group we have,” Kunin said. “We know we can do it in this room.”