The Wild may have only gained two points on the Calgary Flames by going 3-0 on this western Canadian swing because the Flames beat lowly Buffalo and Edmonton, but the Wild did gain six points on Winnipeg.
Remember, a week ago the Wild was 14 back of the Jets for that top wildcard spot. That lead is now down to eight.
Coach Mike Yeo said he didn’t learn anything about his team this trip but had it reassured that “nobody was going to quit in our room.
“If I learned something it’s that we were able to stay focused on the task at hand. That’s what’s going to be really important for us. We’ve climbed back in it a little bit and that’s good, but there’s still an awful lot of work to do. Before the trip started, I asked our guys not to be focused on standings, not to be looking ahead or behind. And I think the same is going to apply when we get back from this trip.”
The Wild had to hang on for a 4-2 win today after seeing its 3-0 lead – goals by Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon two minutes apart in the second and Thomas Vanek’s third-period snipe – become 3-2 in 61 seconds late in the third.
But Devan Dubnyk, who for awhile was flirting with his third shutout in seven starts with the Wild, held on in a 35-save performance. In three wins (nine periods, 180 minutes of road hockey), Dubnyk gave up three goals on 81 shots (.967 save percentage).
Yeo said the biggest difference between the Wild now and the Wild three weeks ago is confidence.
“And a lot of credit has to go to Dubnyk for sure,” he said. “It was the type of game where they came out and got two or three chances and he allowed us to settle into the game and grab that first goal. Some key saves along the way. I think the guys are playing with a real strong urgency right now. We do have to keep in mind too that this is the first time we’ve had close to a complete lineup with our defensive group and those guys being available and obviously getting [Mikael] Granlund back, so I think we’re a little deeper than we were a little while ago too.”
Granlund had two assists tonight, Parise scored his seventh goal in seven games and 21st this season (tied for 11th in the NHL), Vanek scored his first game-winning goal as a Wild and was solid defensively and physical, Jared Spurgeon scored his seventh goal and the Wild’s special teams was outstanding, going 1 for 2 on the power play and 4 for 4 on the penalty kill.
The Wild got lots of good shifts from a lot of people. I thought Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were solid most the game, and for the most part Marco Scandella and Spurgeon. Nate Prosser gave the Wild good shifts again after a strong game in Calgary.
The Wild got off to a flat start in the second and took a penalty. But the Wild held the Canucks without a shot during the ensuing power play, then Ryan Carter, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Scandella and Spurgeon got some momentum back with a great shift.
Not long after, Parise gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead. After Shawn Matthias swung and missed on a scoring chance between the circles, Parise took off for a counterattack. While brushing off Jannik Hansen’s stick disturbance from behind, Parise tried to center a pass for Vanek that instead nicked the stick of defenseman Luca Sbisa and somehow got by his 2010 Olympic teammate, Ryan Miller.
Parise is now tied with Jason Pominville for the team lead with 38 points in seven fewer games.
Two minutes later, after Alex Edler high-sticked Carter, the second unit emerged from the bench and scored a rare power-play goal. Granlund gave the puck to Niederreiter coming into the blue line. Niederreiter dropped a pass for Spurgeon, who skated into the left circle and let rip a shot through traffic and a Granlund screen for his seventh goal and a 2-0 lead.
Granlund picked up his first point since Dec. 27 in his third game back from wrist surgery.
The Wild dodged a bullet 3:05 into the third period when Edler looked to end Dubnyk’s shutout bid. The goal was originally called good, but after all four officials met at the referee’s crease, referee Wes McCauley announced to the chagrin of the crowd that Radim Vrbata prevented Dubnyk’s ability to play his position.
“It’s a great call,” Dubnyk said. “I’m glad they talked about it. It’s not an easy call to make because he moves as the shot’s taken, but Edler’s a left-handed shot and he’s on the wall. Vrbata’s in the crease and I can’t get in my crease where I need to be to make that save.
“You can see it best from the overhead. He moves so it doesn’t look like he interfered with me as the puck goes in, but I couldn’t make the save because I couldn’t get to where I needed to be to make the save in the first place. It’s a good call because it’s not an easy one to make. It would be easy for them to say he moved, but if you watch it, especially from the overhead, it was a great call.”
So three big wins. Now the Wild needs to keep this momentum going by returning to Minnesota and play well for a change on a three-game homestand. The Wild is 2-4-4 at home since Dec. 17 and is a pedestrian 11-7-5 at home after starting the season 7-1 at the X. That means 11 losses in the past 15 games at home.
Please give the gamer and the Ryan Suter-played notebook in Monday’s paper or on startribune.com/wild. Also, please check out today’s Mikael Granlund story, yesterday’s Devan Dubnyk story and my Martin Brodeur column.
That’s it for me. I’ll be traveling back to Minnesota in the morning. Rachel Blount will cover practice.