I sometimes hate loving this team. For 35 minutes, the Wild looked to be out-classed by the Stanley Cup runners-up in just about every facet. They played like a steaming pile of cow dung in the pasture on February. That was until the Wild gave up their first short-handed goal of the season. That goal sparked a feverish rally that resulted in a dramatic 6-4 victory over the Nashville Predators Thursday night in Downtown St. Paul.
Devan Dubnyk, who had already had the franchise’s longest shutout streak, had that streak snapped only 49 seconds into the game. As often happens with these streak records, they can come to an end with a thud. Ryan Johansen scored when he slipped a shot through Dubnyk’s five-hole before the Wild netminder could snap his pads shut.
Minnesota did themselves no favors by taking three penalties in the first period. The Wild’s penalty killing units held strong. The PK was really the only real strong part of the Wild’s game now going on five games. The Predators have a top 10 power play, and for that part of special teams to be as good as it was Thursday, it’s impressive.
After the first period, the Wild were heavily out-shot, a 14-8 margin by Nashville. The Predators, though, are not a team that will get complacent with a lead, and they kept pushing. The Wild were caught running around their defensive zone. Roman Josi would get a rebound with a screen in front of Dubynk. Dubnyk, had was contacted slightly, was out of position and could not make the save.
The Wild on the power play as of late has been boring. No movement and no shots has been major reasons the power play units struggled to find the net with the man-advantage. To make things worse, Mattias Ekholm took advantage of the Jason Zucker playing a bit too cavalier with the puck at the Predators blue line and scored the first short-handed goal against the Wild this season.
Ironically, the power play would be one of the main factors later in the game.
Something happened to the Wild after that shorty though. You can’t explain it. The Wild, a team that has talent, can seemingly play with just about any team in the NHL, and do great things, comes out in this game playing so badly and underwhelming. It’s irritating. It’s frustrating. It’s stressful. We can see what this team can do, and we’ve seen what this team can be capable of in a negative way as well. For as terrible as this Wild team looked after 35 minutes, Minnesota finished the period back in this game after playing amazingly.
Eric Staal won an offensive zone faceoff that was moved quickly back to Matt Dumba. Dumba fired a hard slap shot that beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne over the blocker. It would be Dumba’s first of the season. A shift later, with Minnesota pushing the play, it looked like Nino Niederreiter scored after crashing the net when Tyler Ennis got robbed. It would get waved off after replay showed that the puck was punched in by the glove of Niederreiter. A little over two minutes, and on a Wild power play, Nino would get one that counted. Mikael Granlund found Niederreiter in a soft spot of the defensive box of the Predators, and Nino ripped a one-time snap shot past Rinne to bring the Wild to within one on the scoreboard.
After intermission, the Wild were noticeably forcing passes and making errant plays. Fifty-seven seconds into the period, Niederreiter, along the boards trying to pass the puck back to Staal, but Staal was not on Nino’s wavelength, and the puck was turned over deep in the Wild end by Viktor Arvidsson. The puck would get passed around and with Dubnyk swimming, Arvidsson got the puck back and made easy work into a yawning net.
The building was dead. The Wild even looked like that was going to be it, like they gave it a try, but, ho-hum, they’ll get ‘em next time. A power play around the 10 minute mark of the third, a PP the team needed score on if they wanted to have enough time to mount a meaningful comeback, was slow, methodical, and showed no creativity.
What that PP likely did was help the Wild tilt the ice toward the Predators end. Jared Spurgeon kept the puck in at the right point and sent the puck to his left where Ryan Suter had a clear lane to the net. Suter, instead took too long to take a shot, and his shot was blocked and deflected behind the net of Rinne. Luckily Eric Staal was there to gather the loose puck. He emerged from behind the net and found Spurgeon pinching into the slot with a centering pass. Spurgeon didn’t miss. His one timer brought the team within one, and gave the Wild some life.
A late power play gave the Wild one last chance to tie the game. The first unit squandered a whole minute of the man-advantage. The second unit offered the equalizer. Marcus Foligno fanned on a puck in the slot, but the puck continued on to Staal’s stick, and Staal didn’t miss with a left-handed shot from a low angle.
The building was now “lit,” as the kids would say. The place was on its feet and the crowd was roaring. Then Mikko Koivu worked the puck along the boards, only to find Zucker in the slot. However, Zucker, a left-handed shot, was not in the correct angle to get a good forehand shot on net from where he received the puck. Couple that with a defenseman on him, Zucker made a pirouette and put the puck in behind Rinne for the go-ahead goal on the backhand. Jason Zucker has now scored in each of the last 5 games for the Wild.
It was Minnesota’s first lead of the game. Jared Spurgeon would score an empty-net goal when he pitchforked the puck down the ice. When the final horn sounded, the Wild had successfully comeback from a 3 goal, and later a 2 goal deficit as late as the 13 minute mark of the third period, to win 6-4 over the Preds.
It was an incredibly fun way to end the game and a great win. But this was hardly a great game. If the Wild can turn it on just like that in the midst of a game, why, OH WHY, can’t they do that from start to finish? It’s maddening for fans, I’m sure for the coaches, and has to be for the players.
Minnesota scored four goals on 15 shots in the third period, and had two power play goals in the game. Dubnyk, after getting his shutout streak broken, stopped 22 of 25 shots faced.
But a win over a Central Division rival is always good. Now if only we can have a tradition remotely as cool as the Catfish.