Ryan Suter got the NBC spotlight on #StarSunday, but the rest of the Wild defense didn't get the memo.
Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon upstaged Suter on his special day, each scoring a goal in the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit. Spurgeon's goal would stand as the game-winner as the Wild won 2-1.
Let's get the big story out of the way: This had to have been a satisfying win for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. This was his first meeting with Anaheim since the Ducks fired him over this past summer. The firing struck many as a curious decision, considering that Boudreau finished first in the Pacific Division in each of his full seasons in Anaheim. Alas, a poor record in Game 7s stopped Boudreau and the Ducks from winning a Stanley Cup.
But winning cures all, and by vanquishing the Ducks in regulation, Boudreau's Wild extended their lead in second place in the Western Conference to 5 points ahead of... Anaheim.
The first period started fairly slow, with just 15 shots between the two teams. Especially with Ryan Getzlaf out of the lineup, the Ducks are a team that prefers to slow down the pace of the game. And since Minnesota is the best team in the league at eliminating scoring chances, this led to an opening frame that had very little excitement and legitimate opportunities to score.
It just happened that Anaheim converted on their one shot. Devan Dubnyk couldn't corral a rebound on a Devan Dubnyk shot, and the puck bounced in front of the net. Ryan Kesler happened to be standing right there, and he whacked the puck into the net to make it 1-0 Ducks.
Adding to the frustrating experience of watching the first period was the announcers on NBC's new gimmick: #StarSaturday. The crew picked Kesler and Ryan Suter as their focus for the game, which is fine. They're players worthy of being highlighted. But this came with a constant barrage of hyperbole, at the expense of the rest of the team and game. They literally called Kesler the most unique player in the game. This is a guy who, over the last four years, has less 5-on-5 points than similar defensive centers like Mikko Koivu and Brayden Schenn. I don't know, maybe we could cool it a bit on this.
You could tell Minnesota wasn't happy with their effort in the first period because in the second, they came out swinging. They took swift advantage of a 5-on-3 advantage- even scoring before the first penalty expired when Matt Dumba ripped a one-timer feed from Zach Parise past John Gibson. Minnesota didn't let up after the power play was over, either. They kept applying pressure and were rewarded when Jared Spurgeon scored the go-ahead goal from Gibson's right- the same place Dumba's goal came from.
After 8 minutes in the second, Minnesota had 2 goals and 12 shots on goal.
Anaheim got some momentum back with 3 power plays in the back half of the second period, and a potential Parise goal was blown dead, but the Ducks couldn't take advantage of the opportunities, and trailed after 40.
After sitting on a 2-goal lead against Los Angeles and losing, one gets the sense Minnesota wasn't prepared to play the same way in the third period. The Wild kept up their aggressive attack, out-shooting Anaheim in the third period. Again, they had a goal waived off, this time because Nino Niederreiter- who was stirring things up in front of the net all night- kicked the puck into the net. But Minnesota didn't need the insurance goal, as Dubnyk stood tall for the win.
Dubnyk is one of the bigger stories of the night. After giving up 4 goals in 3 consecutive games, Dubnyk overcame a shaky first period to make some big stops and allow just the Kesler goal. Minnesota gave him help, but Dubnyk did his part, too. A reassuring sign that his rough patch may not last very long.
Another story is the continued revival of Parise. Parise had 4 shots on goal tonight and a crucial clear when Anaheim had an empty net to get his team a much-needed line change. Parise's linemate, Eric Staal, was also spectacular. Staal had just an assist, but he piled on 8 shots on goal, his highest single-game total since his home opener in Carolina last season. They've been rolling nicely over the weekend.
Speaking of the weekend, Minnesota got 5 of a possible 6 points in 4 nights against 3 tough opponents on a California road trip, which has been the bane of Minnesota's existence in recent seasons. Chicago won today as well, but Minnesota kept pace and remain 2 points behind the Blackhawks with 4 games in hand. It's looking more and more possible that they could win the West.
But they'll have to wait until at least Thursday to make a move up the standings, when they'll face Montreal at the Xcel Energy Center. And that might not even be enough to catapult them to the top of the Division, as Chicago will play their 44th game on Tuesday (compared to the Wild's 39). But no matter, if Minnesota keeps playing this way, their scheduling will be the least of their worries.
Until then, keep stopping by Hockey Wilderness for more news, analysis, and all that stuff! See you soon!