TORONTO – As successful as the Wild has been on the road since Devan Dubnyk arrived in Minnesota in January, it’s not as if the Wild keeps strutting into arenas and trouncing opponents.
The Wild has grinded out road win after road win this second half of the season, and that was unsurprisingly the case again Monday night even against a team that had been unresponsive for weeks.
Going head-to-head against a bunch of underachieving Maple Leafs veterans and a number of youngsters trying to make a name for themselves, the Wild took the two points and sprinted out of Canada following a too-close-for-comfort 2-1 victory at Air Canada Centre.
“Sometimes those are dangerous games this time of year,” veteran Zach Parise said. “We didn’t play well. But we won. That’s most important.”
Behind two goals from third-liners Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle, the Wild extended its franchise-record road winning streak to nine games and picked up its franchise-record 43rd and 44th road points. Minnetonka’s Jake Gardiner ruined Dubnyk’s shutout bid with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left, but Dubnyk made 17 of his 35 saves in the third period to snag his first career victory against the Maple Leafs.
“Those games are tough,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “You’re looking ahead. You’ve got a really good [Islanders] squad [Tuesday] that we’ve got to go against, and for us to come in here and find a way, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty at all, but we stuck with it.”
The Maple Leafs, losers of six games in a row, had given up 40 goals in the previous nine games. But after Coyle broke a scoreless tie with 62 seconds left in the first, Jonathan Bernier made 16 of his 30 saves in the second period. Finally, Vanek gave the Wild a 2-0 lead with the eventual winner off a Suter drop pass between the circles 9:08 into the third.
Vanek, who has six goals and four assists over an eight-game point streak, also assisted on Coyle’s goal.
As usual, it was the penalty kill that lifted the Wild to victory. The Wild is 13-1-2 in 16 road games under Dubnyk. Its NHL-best penalty kill is 33-for-34 in the past 14 road games.
The Wild killed all four Toronto power plays, including back-to-back ones late in the second. That included an 18-second 5-on-3 with the Wild’s normal 5-on-3 killing forwards unavailable. Erik Haula was with Vanek in the penalty box, and Kyle Brodziak was in the locker room after fighting Dion Phaneuf after the hard-nosed Maple Leafs captain took a run at Haula and slashed defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
“Brodzy goes about it the right way,” said Dubnyk, who started his 32nd consecutive game (31st for the Wild). “Points are important for us and we’re already on the penalty kill, but Brodzy steps up and confronts him without taking a penalty. That just brings your team motivation when guys are willing to do that for somebody else.”
On the 5-on-3, Mikko Koivu won a huge faceoff on a night the Wild struggled in the circle (The Wild won 26 of 61, and Koivu won 15 of those). The second-biggest faceoff win of the night was Coyle’s only faceoff win on 10 tries. Getting roasted by Trevor Smith all first period, Coyle tried a new way to beat him.
Instead of trying to swipe for the puck, he bulled forward, Vanek jumped with him and Coyle scored his 11th goal off Vanek’s rebound.
It was not an easy game for the Wild, which scored more than one goal in Toronto for the first time in eight all-time visits (2-6). Facing a string of playoff contenders, the Wild had gotten used to playing in hardworking, tight-checking contests. Instead, the Maple Leafs were loose and constantly sending one or two forwards out of their zone with speed.
That led to the Wild’s defensemen having to keep them honest and rarely joining the offensive attack.
“Not at any time were we comfortable in that game,” coach Mike Yeo said. “They made it tough on us.”