The Wild didn’t just bank another two much-needed points, moving four shy of the nearest playoff spot in the Western Conference.
It executed in a way that could help it keep climbing.
After establishing an early lead, the Wild wrapped its advantage in Scotchgard to hold off the Canucks 4-2 on Thursday night in front of 17,191 at Xcel Energy Center — immediate improvement after the team blew a two-goal lead in the third period before regrouping to shrug off the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime two nights earlier.
“We learned from Chicago a little bit,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “That was one of those things where we really sat back and allowed their skill players to get going. That was one thing that we talked about.”
Three of the Wild’s goals came in the first period amid a terrific start, but it was the team’s play at the end that sealed the victory.
Although Vancouver scored with 1 minute, 31 seconds remaining in the third, an Antoine Roussel power-play marker, the Wild had previously widened its margin after not retreating. It outshot the Canucks 9-6 in the period and was just as studious defensively as it was in the offensive zone.
Goalie Alex Stalock, making a second consecutive start, had 24 saves for a career-high 13th victory, and the Wild got in front of 21 shots.
“When we block shots and we come back hard,” Stalock said, “we’re a tough team to play against — a frustrating team to play against.”
The Wild got a chance at a do-over because of its strong beginning.
Only 6:01 into the first, defenseman Brad Hunt scored on a shot through traffic. Only 4:38 later, captain Mikko Koivu scooped up an errant behind-the-net pass by goalie Jacob Markstrom and sent it to the front of the net where winger Ryan Hartman backhanded it by Markstrom.
Before the period ended, the Wild recorded No. 3 on the power play at 16:20 — a nifty shot by winger Kevin Fiala as he moved between a pair of Canucks defenders. The goal was Fiala’s third in the past two games, and two of those have come with the man advantage. He and Hunt each ended up with a goal and assist.
“It’s so much easier to play than chasing the game all the time,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, who credited an unlikely fight between Jason Zucker and Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen only minutes into the game for sparking the Wild. Zucker moved to the fourth line after his tussle, a switch Boudreau said didn’t come with a message.
The Canucks made a much better push in the second, especially after another fight — this one a heavyweight bout between Foligno and Zack MacEwen that left Foligno bloodied.
“I didn’t feel anything,” Foligno said. “Then I looked in the mirror, and it looks like I fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”
Vancouver tallied its first also on the power play, a glove-side shot by J.T. Miller at 10:33 to finish 2-for-4. That’s also how the Wild fared, with Zach Parise’s team-leading 20th goal 14:33 into the third on the power play underscoring a push-back by the Wild that was missing Tuesday.
“I just liked that when we put the puck in the zone, we had guys chasing it,” Foligno said. “Last game we played, we had pucks going into the zone and then we were just kind of playing defense and letting them come at us. That’s what we changed, and that’s why we made it 4-1.”
With the goal, Parise tied Marian Gaborik for the most 20-goal seasons (five) in team history in his 999th career game. Markstrom totaled 33 saves. The Wild’s power play has 10 goals in the past eight games.
But perhaps most important, the Wild gained ground in the standings — the reward for bookending a game with an attentive effort.
“We just want to stay consistent now with our game, playing desperate hockey,” Foligno said. “I think we’re seeing it.”