If you weren’t even a little worried about the Wild taking on the Canadiens, who scored seven goals in Winnipeg in a lopsided win over the Jets the night before, you were lying to yourself. Wild fans are in a weird place right now. The team is having immense success at the moment and are among the top teams both offensively and defensively. It’s hard not to get excited, yet Wild fans recognize what month it is on the calendar. It’s January and we’ve seen this Wild club get off to franchise best starts only to crashing back to Earth.
Montreal is one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Wild didn’t care.
Minnesota took an early lead in the first period after a great shift was capped off with a Christian Folin back hander that went off the post and in. Sloppy play would mar the rest of the period. Montreal, on the second night of a back-to-back, started to force the issue. Devan Dubnyk stopped eight shots in the period as the Wild went into the first intermission with a one goal lead.
It was four and a half minutes into the second period and the teams combined for only one shot on goal that came off the stick of a Montreal player. Minnesota slowly started putting together a couple good shifts to keep the pressure on the Habs. A chip out to the neutral zone by the Canadiens and with the long line change in the second period, Matt Dumba was able to move the puck up to the wing for Charlie Coyle. Coyle didn’t waste any time as he found Eric Staal, who said he was screaming for the puck on the play when speaking with Bruan Boucher on the NBCSN broadcast, and Staal sniped the upper corner over the blocker of Carey Price.
You don’t see Carey Price get beat so cleanly on shots - hardly ever. However, when the Wild beat Montreal in Montreal on December 22nd, Staal got the game-winning goal with a similar shot. Staal was flying in the first period, and was one of the best, if not THE best, player on the ice for Minnesota. Number 12 would end with 3 points on the night with a goal and two assists. He’s been fantastic with the Wild and since December 11, when he notched his 800th career point, he’s led the NHL in points with eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in that span. You really can’t say enough great things about what he’s done for Minnesota in providing exactly what this team has been starving for - a number one center.
The floodgates were then opened. Jordan Schroeder deflected a Spurgeon shot through Price’s five-hole while taking a healthy cross check in the shoulder blades just 39 seconds after Staal’s goal. Minnesota’s pressure and forecheck was unrelenting. Aleksander Radulov would take a double-minor for high sticking and drawing blood on Folin deep in the Wild zone. Minnesota wouldn’t get a goal on the four minute power play, but the pressure and the zone time led to Nino Niederreiter finding the back of the net from the top of the crease. It was a great battle in the corner by Koivu as the penalty to Radulov expired. He skated up the wall and found Niederreiter, who was neglected by the Habs’ defense. Nino performed a pirouette and found room under the right arm of Price for a 4-0 lead.
Most would expect the Wild to coast through the third with that 4-0 and for Carey Price to watch the final stanza from the bench. Neither of those things occurred. Price returned to the cage for the third period, and the Wild took advantage of two power play goals by Jason Zucker and Ryan Suter along with Niederreiter’s second of the game to push the lead to 7-0. With Devan Dubnyk pushing for his league leading sixth shutout, Chris Terry would run into Dubnyk in a clear cut case of goalie interference. However, that did not draw the whistle of the officials. Then, shortly after, Tomas Plekanec made contact with the All-Star netminder behind the net. Chris Stewart took exception and got rough with Paul Byron. Stewart would get assessed an extra two minutes for roughing to accompany his two minute cross checking minor.
Plekanec would ruin the shutout with 8.5 ticks left on the clock.
Dubnyk was back to his calm, cool self, and made a sprawling save in the third to burgle a goal from the Canadiens. The team defense was better, outside of the first period. Minnesota did a better job of getting in the shooting lanes, and were better in the neutral zone in the final two periods. The first period, the Wild gave up the blue line a little to easy. It’s possible that they were attempting to play Montreal’s speed, but there was little stepping up at the blue line to force the Habs into a mistake.
Minnesota just routed the top team in the Atlantic Division, and swept them in the season series while doing so. But it is January. So do we take this with a cautious optimism, or ride the wave of excitement for however long it lasts?