The Wild completed a 3-1, nine-day road trip Tuesday night in Winnipeg by holding off the Jets’ late comeback attempt to win 4-2.
update: no morning skate today for the Wild, but it did recall defenseman Gustav Olofsson from Iowa and send Mike Reilly back to the Baby Wild.
The Wild now is a league-best 18-6-5 on the road with a league-most 41 points on the road. The Wild has now won 35 games in 52 games after winning 38 in 82 games last season.
Amazing stat, there.
The Wild’s now 14-1-2 in its past 17 on the road but returned to Minnesota after the game to open an eight-game homestand. First up – the sitting and waiting Chicago Blackhawks, who have lost eight straight regular-season games against the Wild and says this is the biggest game of their season so far.
Darcy Kuemper, who tied a career-high with 41 saves Jan. 31 in Edmonton to open this Canadian odyssey, will be in the cage. Devan Dubnyk was fabulous tonight, making 26 of his 38 saves in the final two periods.
Tonight, Bruce Boudreau, who always seems to push the right buttons, found something by moving Charlie Coyle to center for the first time this season. Between Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville, the line had three goals by the 23:33 mark of the second period for a 3-0 Minnesota lead.
Pominville later assisted on Niederreiter’s empty-net goal – the Wild’s first empty-netter in a good bit, actually, but still the team’s league-leading 12th. That goal was Niederreiter’s second of the game and gave him a team-leading 17 – one more than Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu.
Pominville finished with two goals and two assists for his fourth career four-point game. He has 13 points in the past nine games and is playing solid hockey in the second half for a second consecutive season.
Coyle posted his second three-assist game this season and had his first multi-point game since Dec. 27.
The Wild scored four or more goals for the 23rd time – something it did 20 times all of last season. The team, which leads the West in goals with 176 and the West with 125 5-on-5 goals (two back of the Caps), now has a league-leading 10 double-digit goal scorers. In the past 25 games since Dec. 13, the Wild’s averaging 4.00 goals per game, scoring at least four in 15 of those.
Again, amazing stat there.
Despite how good Coyle looked in the middle, Boudreau felt he had to move him back to right wing on the first line in the third. The Wild’s 3-0 lead became 3-2, and the top line of Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Alex Tuch just kept getting hemmed in the D-zone. Staal really had a tough go tonight.
But in the third, the Wild felt it played smart hockey to get out with the two points.
“Really proud of the way [they played], especially in the third when they didn’t have much left in the tank,” Boudreau said. I thought they played with really good structure and really smart and held them off. That’s what winning hockey’s about.”
On the second period, Boudreau said, “It was difficult. The third goal that we got made it easier, and the fact that we got out of the period with the lead, a chance to regroup was really important. But they were coming. Duby was there when we had to make the big saves. I mean I don’t think he saw [Joel] Armia’s shot until the last second. Looking from the bench, we could see it was going to be a good screen. But we found a way.”
Boudreau said they needed Dubnyk to play that way because he thought the Wild would be tired at the end of the trip, and that’s why he chose to go with his No. 1 tonight.
On the Staal line, Boudreau said, “I thought they were tired. They looked tired. They were getting hemmed in a little bit when they were out there, so Charlie was going really good, so I thought I’d put him out there.”
Boudreau felt Coyle was the Wild’s best player, saying, “Proof was in the pudding I guess. He got three assists, he was all over the ice, he had chances to score. It was his best game in awhile. It was very noticeable.”
“Nothing with this team surprises me right now,” he continued. “It seems like there’s a different hero every night. Charlie’s a good player. He doesn’t get a lot of notice. Maybe it’s because we’re in Minnesota, or whatever the reason. But he’s a good player. And tonight he came to play. So did Niederreiter and so did Pominville. He got four points. Those guys held us down. Other nights, it’s either the Staal line or the Koivu line. Tonight it was that line.”
On Pominville, Boudreau said, “He’s been pretty good. There were a couple games about three weeks ago I sort of put him on the fourth line and played him seven, eight minutes. He sort of just said, ‘OK, that’s it, I’m going to step it up,’ and he has. And he has played really good since then.”
Niederreiter loved being reunited with Coyle, saying, “We like to push each other and we know each other very well on the ice and where we are on the ice, and it’s just fun playing with him. I know how good he is. Especially down the center, I really like when he’s the centerman for me. He’s a great player.”
On the second period, Niederreiter said, “Even in the first period, they got so many grade a chances, which we usually don’t give up. You can tell we were a little tired from being on such a long road trip. But we found a way to win the hockey game. Duby was obviously outstanding and we found a way to get that win.”
Pominville said, “We defended hard. Second wasn’t our best, but I thought with a one-goal lead in the third we didn’t really give them much, we were smart with the puck, got pucks deep. I think everyone took pride in defending and for the most part being short on our changes and getting fresh guys on the ice.”
Pominville on Coyle at center: “He was buzzing, he was moving, he made some plays. A couple turnovers, we were able to get some rushes and were able to pick corners, so it’s always nice. Yeah, as a game went along, a few adjustments, but he looked good in both positions. He’s a big part of the team and it’s nice that he got rewarded tonight.”
I’ll probably write my Wednesday for Thursday game notebook on Pominville, so I’m holding some stuff back from him.
Dubnyk said of bailing out the Wild, “That’s my job. That’s literally my only job, so it’s nice. The guys have been scoring a lot of goals for me, so it’s nice to kick them out for them. We knew they were going to come. This was the end of a long trip for us and they were obviously frustrated with their loss in Colorado, so we knew they play real hard at home and that’s what they did. I said it before, to consistently come out in the third periods and show that we can pull it together and lock it down for the third, that’s the sign of a great hockey team.”
On the Wild being trapped in the defensive zone so often in the second, Dubnyk said, “They were coming real hard. It seemed like every time we moved the puck, their guys were right there. That’s a fast-skating, big-bodied team. They did a good job of that and we just, when things are going that way, we probably want to get pucks deep a little more. I think some turnovers before the red line cost us some zone time, but like I said, we built up a lead and we pulled it together and had a great third period.”
Jared Spurgeon, who made an awesome defensive play to break up an odd-man rush in the first, also saved a goal in the second. Asked if he thanked Spurgeon, Dubnyk joked, “Well yeah, he almost scored on me first. I thanked him, but I was like, ‘Really, you’re the one that put it through my five-hole, so you better sweep it out of there or we’re gonna have to go on TV.’ No, that’s not the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last time he bails me out, so that was nice of him.”
Boudreau, by the way, went on and on and on and on about Spurgeon this morning.
Coyle, on moving back to center, said, “It was different. I felt like I had a lot of speed in the middle and playing with Pominville and Niederreiter, it clicked right away. A few little 3-on-2 quick rushes, we just get the puck to the net and it goes in. That makes us feel good right at the start [to] have a couple going early. And we just, we wanted to play responsible down low, just kind of play in their end and wear them down. I thought we did a pretty good job of that early on.
“It was just easy to get my feet moving. A lot of talk on the walls and great play by [Pominville] and [Niederreiter] there to get the puck out, my stick through the middle, coming with speed, stuff like that. That definitely helps and plays a huge part. It felt good and we got the two points, so that’s what matters.
On what it was like after a crazy second in the locker room, Coyle said, “We were up. They kinda poured it on at the end there, long shots and stuff, but what was it, 3-2, right? It was 3-2 up on the road, so it was: take care of business, win this period. It’ll make for a huge road trip, heading back home feeling good. So we just did all we could to do the little things out there in the third and it paid off.”
Good two points. No morning skate, so I’ll come to you again after afternoon pregame availability with players and Boudreau.
I’ll also be on the NHL Network Bald Spot Cam Wednesday at 3:50 p.m. CT.
Thursday is a day off for the Wild, but I’ll be recording the Russo-Souhan Show that day with Jim. So pay attention to Twitter as we seek questions. Next Sports from Hell video podcast at Hell’s Kitchen is Friday at 4 p.m. at Hell’s Kitchen. So come on down. I’m actually not covering the Wild-Lightning game that night.
Cannot wait!!! to get home Wednesday. I’ve been out of town basically for 12 days (before the All-Star break), so I’m ready to get accustomed with Minnesota again.