The Minnesota Wild played about as good a first period as you could want from a road team, but an unfortunate penalty let the Buffalo Sabres into the game, and it took a shootout to decide the game. With a big goal from Wild captain Mikko Koivu late in the third period, Devan Dubnyk and the Wild held on just long enough to get a big two points in the standings.
Minnesota dominated the first period right at the on-set. The fourth line of Ryan Carter - Jarret Stoll - and newcomer David Jones got the balance of play in the offensive zone against the Sabres' top line of Sam Reinhart - Evander Kane - and Jack Eichel. The play worked out for Minnesota as David Jones would net his first goal in a Wild sweater. The funniest thing about it was that no one really saw the puck go in. His goal was not realized until the red light came on and it somehow sneaked through Robin Lehner's pads.
The Wild kept most of everything from the Sabres to the perimeter. Buffalo didn't even muster their first shot on goal until just past the nine minute mark of the period when Brian Gionta's shot from about 60 feet out made for an easy save by Dubnyk. Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner kept his team in the game though. He made big save, after big save. One such play in which the Sabres tried to clear the defensive zone with a try along the ice diagonally out of the zone. Except those types of play usually spell disaster. The puck was intercepted just inside the blue line and sent down to Jason Zucker, who found himself all alone, with time, in front of Lehner. But Zucker, who was in his first game back from missing six games with a concussion suffered from a collision with Chicago's Michal Rozsival during the Stadium Series, could not get the back-hander to go. Zucker get leveled pretty good after the shot was stopped by the goaltender. He also took a pretty heavy hit into the end boards, but sprung right back to his feet.
The last the Wild need is for him to miss more time. The other worry was Jason Pominville. Pominville left ice with an apparent leg injury a little over half way through the first period. He was questionable to return with a "lower body injury."
The Wild went into the intermission with a one goal lead.
The Sabres came out of the intermission with a little more life. They immediately started putting pressure on the Wild and Devan Dubnyk. At the 5:15 mark of the period, though, Nino Niederreiter would have an errant stick catch Jake McCabe in the chin and draw blood. The resulting four minute double minor penalty gave the Sabres' 12th ranked power play go up against the Wild's 28th ranked penalty kill.
Former Wild second round draft pick, Johan Larsson, who was sent to Buffalo in the Jason Pominville trade with Matt Hackett and a few picks, would gather a rebound and score before the first penalty of the double-minor expired. Then with the Wild trying to kill the second half of Niederreiter's penalty, Mikko Koivu would try to one-time the puck out off the boards. Only Koivu partially fanned on it, leading to a turnover at the Wild blue line. The puck would be rotated down to the left wing side to Sam Reinhart. Reinhart found Eichel in the right circle for a one-timer that Dubnyk really had no chance on as the Sabres took the one goal lead.
The Koivu failed clearing attempt was maddening in that he had time to settle the puck down and make a more sure-handed play to clear the zone. After just giving up a power play goal, that kind of hurried, weak-on-the-puck play isn't something that should be tolerated on the team. And for a veteran like Koivu to not recognize that he wasn't being checked at the moment and make a better play, it's more than frustrating for a team that would love to find any bit of success on the penalty kill.
Buffalo really started taking control of the game. Failed breakouts, chipping it out off the boards, and not getting the puck on net is not a recipe for much success. The Wild couldn't get its first shot on goal until the 11 minute mark of the period. As good as the first period was, the second period was equally awful.
The start of the third period was fairly even as both teams couldn't get much going. It literally felt like noting was going on. Then Dubnyk completely robbed Evander Kane and Reinhart as the crashed the net hard. Ryan Suter didn't like that so mauch and tried to remove Kane from the situation. Kane dropped a glove as the foofaraw fell to the ice.
Dubnyk got the better of Kane a few times in the game. Kane had five shots on goal, with a breakaway in OT that Dubnyk was able to blocker away.
After the donnybrook subsided, the Zach Parise - Koivu - Charlie Coyle assembled a solid shift in the Buffalo zone. Coyle crashed the net hard, and was tripped by Josh Gorges into the net. The puck did end up in the net, but only after Coyle's momentum took the net off its moorings.
The Wild got a crack on its first power play chance. Matt Dumba would take a shot from the slot, then re-gain the puck in the left corner. He then sent a pass across the Koivu for a one-timer. Koivu scored his 15th goal of the season to tie the game at one. It was a perfect feed from Dumba, and Koivu took a nice shot to the far post that Lehner just vacated.
The Wild then forced overtime. It was the first chance we got to see how Wild interim John Torchetti would deploy players in the 3-on-3 session. Here are the trios in order of appearance:
Mikael Granlund - Parise - Suter
Koivu - Coyle - Marco Scandella
Erik Haula - Pominville - Suter
Koivu - Granlund - Dumba
Dumba did well to play with possession on this shift, but after fanning on a one-timer, he sold out to try and keep the puck deep in the zone. It didn't work, and Dubnyk had to make an incredible save on Kane, who was alone in on the breakaway.
Next was: Haula - Parise - Jared Spurgeon
Jason Zucker - Coyle - Suter
And to finish, Koivu - Zucker - Suter. Suter had a make a good play to negate a final chance for the Sabres.
On to the shootout.
Koivu had the puck roll off his stick. Coyle made a beauty of a move to score. Parise was smashing his stick on the bench after his missed try. Just visibly frustrated with being unable to score lately. And Pominville was able to win it for the Wild and gain a huge second point in the standings to stay ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.