Since it last sank deeper into the quicksand that has been its lousy start to the season, the talk surrounding the Wild has been just that.
From the soliloquy by captain Mikko Koivu during a closed-door meeting after a 4-0 shellacking by the Canadiens on Thursday to the pointed comments by players in the aftermath, the focus on the team has been its words instead of its woeful ways.
But the Wild shifted the attention back to the ice, and its attempt to rejoin the competitive ranks of the NHL, with a different statement Sunday — a spunky, 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Canadiens that lifted the team to 2-6 in front of 17,344 at Xcel Energy Center, a turnout that ended the franchise’s regular season sellout streak at 230 games.
“There’s players in here that can back it up and get things going,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “We know that, and that’s why we’re positive. This isn’t a season that’s kind of already made up its mind. It’s right there for us to battle back, and tonight was a good example of it.”
One of the most critical voices of the Wild after that meltdown in Montreal set the tone in the rematch.
Winger Jason Zucker, who said everybody needed to be better — including coach Bruce Boudreau, before later apologizing — bookended the offense by opening the scoring and then setting up the game-winner from linemate Zach Parise 12 minutes, 54 seconds into the third period — a terrific seeing-eye, cross-ice pass that Parise one-timed to tie Zucker and defenseman Brad Hunt for the team lead in goals with three.
“Obviously, you can talk and say the right things every day of the week,” said Zucker, who acknowledged he felt extra motivation Sunday. “Until you come out and you play and you do those things, it doesn’t matter.”
A clutch finish off the rush wasn’t the Wild’s only improvement. The team also discovered a resiliency that was missing in its previous losses.
After managing just one goal in the first period on 19 shots, a deflection by Zucker at 8:57 for his third power-play tally, the team fell into a familiar trap.
Only 16 seconds after Montreal evened it at 1 when Tomas Tatar put back a rebound at 2:50 on the power play, the Canadiens capitalized again the very next shift when Phillip Danault banked the puck off goalie Devan Dubnyk’s skate and in at 3:06.
But instead of retreating like it had every time before this season when an opponent scored one after another, the Wild stayed afloat.
“Determination was there that this isn’t going to happen again,” Boudreau said. “We’re not going to let this happen again. And they fought back.”
With 15 seconds to go in the period — and just after center Eric Staal’s attempt at an open net clipped a Montreal stick and sailed through the crease — Staal’s heave at the net bounced out to Foligno at the back post for the easy tap-in.
This newfound mettle, however, was tested again.Only 3:22 into the third, the Canadiens regained the lead when the puck caromed in off Danault as he crashed the net. And like it did before, the Wild had a response.
“It wasn’t like we were playing poorly and it was just a matter of time until they scored,” Zucker said. “We were playing really well.”
Hunt put the latest rally in motion with a blistering one-timer on the power play at 8:38. And Parise capped off the comeback, setting up Dubnyk’s first win of the season..
“We need to remember this feeling,” Zucker said. “This feels great.”