The Wild, who are still trying to figure things out after the Zach Parise injury, found themselves facing a bad match-up in the physical Winnipeg Jets. While the Wild were able to topple the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Lightning are considered to be a more finesse team, so no one quite knew how the Wild would hold up against a team like Winnipeg without Parise, their best and perhaps grittiest player.
These concerns have been alleviated, at least for tonight. The Wild were able to overcome physicality and Parise's absence by playing "their game", holding on to defeat Winnipeg 5-3.
Minnesota opened the scoring tonight when Mikko Koivu sent a pass from behind the net to Nino Niederreiter, who banged his own rebound home. The Jets responded about halfway through the period when Dustin Byfuglien took a huge slapshot from the point that Bryan Little knocked to the ground. The puck re-directed and bounced under Dubnyk's legs to tie the game. Despite the tie after 20 minutes, the Jets actually got the better of the play, as the only time the Wild sustained a ton of pressure was on a power play.
The second period really saw the game swing towards the Wild. Christian Folin opened the floodgates by finding Vanek in stride on a perfectly executed breakout pass. Vanek put a slapshot past Ondrej Pavelec for the lead. Within the next 1:20, the Jets got the benefit of some questionable non-calls, and Brodin got sent to the box for tripping. Momentum would not swing Winnipeg's way, as Erik Haula found some open ice and notched a shorthanded goal. Vanek then flashed the highlight of the game, which truly has to be seen to be believed. Pavelec would be pulled after this undressing of the Jets' defense.
Chris Porter would also join in the fun, getting his first goal of the season to close out the Wild's barrage of scoring.
The outcome of the game was never truly in doubt, but the Jets were able to get on the board twice. The first came on a Jets power play. The Wild weren't able to clear the zone as the Jets tightened in closer and closer to the net, creating enough chaos for Devan Dubnyk to lose the puck completely. Bryan Little would get his second goal of the game with 7:40 left in the game, but the Wild would hold on.
Undisciplined play was really what did the Jets in. Winnipeg's penalty kill actually performed well, holding the Wild power play to an 0-6 performance (including a 1:43 5-on-3), but the time short-handed absolutely destroyed their ability to come back after that 4-goal outburst from the Wild. Discipline issues almost allowed the Wild to mount a comeback in Winnipeg two weeks ago, so Paul Maurice may need to rein that in if they hope to make the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
As for the Wild, it was Snakebite City for a few of their players. Pominville- who had three shots while playing well alongside Vanek and Granlund- will get most of the attention, as he's still goalless on the season despite Vanek unselfishly trying to set him up on an empty net. But Zucker also couldn't buy a goal tonight, missing 5 shots, and whiffing on a couple more chances. He was all over the ice, which bodes well for the scoring to come, but that had to be a frustrating game for him.
The Wild will be heading on the road to Carolina on Thursday. It's unknown who the Wild will have in their lineup that night. Kurtis Gabriel made his NHL debut, playing just 2:51 and getting in a fight. Whether Gabriel was injured in the fight, or benched for the fight is unknown, so the Wild may go back to Christoph Bertschy for Thursday's game, as the Hurricanes aren't known for being physical.
We'll have more on this game tomorrow, when we highlight this game's Pivotal Moment, so make sure to come back to HockeyWilderness.com for all your Minnesota Wild needs!