The arrival of winger Zach Parise retooled the entire Wild lineup, delivering new combinations and stoking the intrigue about what the top nine could look like when winger Nino Niederreiter also gets healthy.
But in Parise’s season debut Tuesday, after missing the first 39 games of the season while he dealt with a herniated disc and recovered from back surgery, it was the team’s division of depth players that stole the spotlight — helping spark a 5-1 victory over the Florida Panthers in front of 19,029 at Xcel Energy Center that improved the Wild to 10-1-1 in its past 12 games at home.
“That’s how we have to win,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We’ve shown that in the past. We know that’s why we’re a dangerous team.”
Center Matt Cullen scored two goals, bumping his career output to 699 points, while center Eric Staal also had a two-goal night. Cullen’s linemates (wingers Marcus Foligno and Daniel Winnik) each earned an assist, and third-pairing defenseman/frequent healthy scratch Gustav Olofsson also tallied a helper.
“They set the tone for us,” Staal said of Cullen’s unit. “They had a good couple shifts before they even scored and brought that energy and played in the offensive zone. It was big.”
Other lines still brought pressure, especially during a first period in which the Wild got better in time, but the trio that executed first was the fourth one.
Cullen opened the scoring 14 minutes, 21 seconds into the first when he put back a rebound as he was falling to the ice. Only 1:56 into the second, Cullen served up another — this one a deflection off a Foligno redirection — for point No. 699.
“I think we did a good job of getting in on pucks and hanging on to them, trying to force them to defend and spend time in their end and wear them down,” Cullen said.
Later in the period, winger Mikael Granlund temporarily scored when a puck bounced off his leg and behind goalie James Reimer. The play was reviewed, and the goal stood after video showed the puck entered the net legally.
But the Panthers then challenged to determine if the sequence was offside, and it was — wiping Granlund’s goal off the board.
Still, the period was dominated by the Wild, especially after Reimer left the game.
Granlund and Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad fell on Reimer with 8:55 remaining in the second, and he was replaced by Harri Sateri, who was making his NHL debut.
It didn’t take long for the Wild to capitalize on the newcomer, as Staal pounced on a rebound at 14:31.
Reimer returned to the crease, and Staal scored on him, too, slinging a shot by Reimer 2:39 after his first goal.
Winger Tyler Ennis assisted on both of Staal’s goals, and defenseman Jared Spurgeon had three helpers.
Overall, the Wild outshot the Panthers 19-2 in the second period — its best output for a single period this season — and finished with a season-high 41; all but three skaters registered a shot on goal.
“We did a really good job when they were trying to break out staying above their guys and making them turn the puck over, getting on their ‘D’ and just attacking and keeping them in their own zone,” said Parise, who logged 13:35 of ice time and put three shots on goal.
Florida tested Dubnyk more in the third period, eventually erasing his shutout bid at 3:40 when winger Jonathan Huberdeau completed a slick passing sequence, but that’s as close as the Panthers got. Center Charlie Coyle added an empty-netter with 3:05 to go to stop a 12-game goalless skid.
Dubnyk totaled 25 saves, while Sateri ended up with 13 after taking over for the third; Reimer had 23.
The Wild blanked on its lone power-play chance, while the Panthers went 0-for-2.
“When you get your full lineup, close to anyways, you can see what we all sort of envisioned at the beginning of the season,” Cullen said. “Obviously missing Zach and missing Nino is a big deal, so getting Zach back is a huge piece and it allows our depth to shine through.”