The Minnesota Wild knew this was going to be a big game. Trailing by two points in the standings to division rival Colorado Avalanche, the Wild needed a win, no matter how it got it, to re-enter the playoff picture. With a line as on fire as the Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville line, the Wild would lean on them to gain the victory.
Minnesota looked like it wanted to jump, but maybe the energy got the best of Nino Niederreiter as he took a tripping penalty just 12 seconds into the game. The Wild would have to dig itself out of an early hole after noted Wild Killer Jerome Iginla scored from the far edge of the faceoff circle to take and early 1-0 Colorado lead.
The penalty kill has been something awful all season long, but it's been almost worse lately. Per Michael Russo, the Wild has now allowed 14 power play goals in 42 tries in just 13 games. Against a team that can score multiple goals with the man-advantage, marching to the penalty box early and often is not a good strategy.
However, Nino Niederreiter would get a chance at redemption when Pominville sprung him for a 2-on-1, in which he decided to take a shot from the right circle. It resembled the Game 7 game winner from the Western Conference quarterfinals, but this time it was just to tie the game in big regular season match. Jason Pominville then added another quick goal just a minute after Nino's tying goal. Pominville and Niederreiter broke out of the defensive zone together and Nino fed a pass to spring Pominville in alone. But the Wild wasn't done scoring in the period. Matt Dumba made a beauty of a stretch pass to Erik Haula at the Avs' blue line. Haula then used his speed and sent a backhander over Avalanche starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov wouldn't return to the ice for the rest of the game.
Enter Calvin Pickard. Pickard, the Avalanche back-up, has come in and played some big games for Colorado, especially last year when Varlamov was injured for an extended period. He was tested immediately in the on-set of the second period when Erik Haula forced the puck back up along the boards as the Avs tried to breakout. The puck went to Pominville, who then got the puck to Niederreiter. Pickard was equal to the task, and the Wild was unable to extend the lead. After that though, the Avs really started to press. Minnesota was stuck in its own zone for long chunks of time. Chris Bigras scored his first of the season - first of his career - when his wrist shot got through Devan Dubnyk. Then, when the Wild failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone, Cody freaking McLeod crashed the net and got a bounce after Jack Skille's shot went in off of him to tie the game at three.
Devan Dubnyk was not sharp early in this game. As much as it looked like Varlamov had been fighting the puck in the first, the goals against weren't ones that Dubnyk lets in if he is on top of his game. Luckily, even when he's not at his best, he can battle through and give the team a chance to win.
The Corsi event charts for this game look more like mountain ranges with peaks and valleys as one team dominated in one period, only to have the other take the puck possession battle right back.
The Wild decided to take it to the Avs in the third period. With some possession by the Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle line, Parise drove the net, froze Pickard, and dished to Coyle for the alley-oop slam dunk goal.
Pickard really didn't have a chance on the play.
Then, as Patrick Roy is want to do, he pulled his netminder with a little over two minutes left. Coyle notched his second of the night when he was able to lob one down from just past the center red line to seal the deal. Nino would add another empty-netter for his second on the night and the Wild would win 6-3 in a game it needed in order to make a statement. A statement to the other teams, sure, but to themselves. They needed this game to know give that reward for fighting back into the playoffs. (Granted much of the position the team is in is mostly self-inflicted).
Coyle notched goals 20 and 21 in the victory as the move to wing this season has allowed him to simplify his game and just concentrate on making plays at the net. The Niederreiter - Haula - and Pominville line is scorching hot right now. The all are scoring, making mostly smart plays, and attacking the net with a real purpose.
The Wild now head back out on the road as the Xcel Energy Center hosts the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. Minnesota will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, and the Buffalo Sabres in an early one on Saturday.