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Cullen stars as the Wild cruises to a 6-3 victory over the Canadiens

It wasn’t perfect, but Minnesota took advantage of a fast start and a leaky Carey Price in its win over Montreal.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

That was a bit of an odd victory for the Minnesota Wild. It was pretty much a no-doubter, with little drama from the opening minutes, but it still didn’t feel like Minnesota had its best game. The Wild was aided by some poor play from the Montreal Canadiens and even poorer play by their historically phenomenal goalie, who happened to have an atrocious first period. Minnesota also left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of fans by giving the Habs momentary hope in the last few minutes of the game, when Devan Dubnyk allowed an undeniably soft goal off of a Brendan Gallagher shot from the corner, briefly bringing Montreal within two goals. Still, for a team that hasn’t found its groove yet this season, getting a convincing win to push its record above .500 with minimal stress on the players is definitely a positive outcome.

Preparedness was a hot topic for Bruce Boudreau over the past 48 hours, after the team came out looking somewhat flat against Pittsburgh on Saturday, and then really flat against Winnipeg on Tuesday. The message was apparently well received by the Wild, as the team potted three goals in the opening period.

The scoring started at the 4:46 mark, when Mike Reilly fired a simple slapper low and on target that caromed off Price’s right pad and onto the tape of Matt Cullen. Cullen happened to be celebrating his 41st birthday by hanging out on the doorstep. Price slid too far to his right, and despite Cullen partially fanning on the puck, it still dribbled under the Montreal goalkeeper’s left leg. Then, just a few seconds later, Price went behind the net to play the dump-in that came after the center-ice faceoff. Price lackadaisically tossed the puck up the boards, directly to the current chief resident of Boudreau’s doghouse, Matt Dumba, who quickly fired it on net. The puck changed directions on its way to the net, tipped by Nino Niederreiter for the Swiss Mister’s first of the year. Only ten seconds elapsed between the two goals. Ten minutes after the Nino goal, Cullen found his way onto the scoresheet once again, when he raced through the neutral zone on a 2-on-1 with Tyler Ennis. Cullen put an absolutely exquisite saucer pass onto the stickblade of Ennis, who snapped it home for a 3-0 lead to take Minnesota into the intermission.

In that opening period, Price looked to be made of some sort of porous, rubberized substance that either allowed pucks through or bounced them directly back out into dangerous scoring areas. It was really strange to see Price struggle the way that he did. Even if his injuries over the past couple seasons have reduced his agility, watching such a great goaltender fighting the puck on easy shots, overplaying rebounds, and loafing his way around his goalcrease was shocking.

The second period was a bit less thrilling than the first, though Minnesota did find the back of the net once more on a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play from Mikael Granlund to Mikko Koivu to Ryan Suter for the finish at 12:09. The Habs would answer that one, however, when Charles Hudon found Brendan Gallagher, who had gotten behind Minnesota’s defense off the rush. Gallagher made a nice little shake and calmly tucked it behind Devan Dubnyk, who really had no chance on the play.

Jared Spurgeon scored on the power play in the opening minute of the third, making it 5-1. That was Minnesota’s first tally in its last TWENTY tries at the manpower advantage, and it came on a nice backdoor tap-in play off of a perfect pass from Koivu, the Kaptain’s second assist of the evening. But then some bad habits started to creep in for the Wild, which started to look a little too comfortable playing with a four-goal lead. A sloppy third period was made to look worse by a bad Ennis turnover behind Minnesota’s net that resulted in a tap-in goal for Andrew Shaw, as well as Gallagher’s ugly second goal through Dubnyk’s legs. Fortunately for Minnesota, Marcus Foligno found himself with the puck on his stick at center ice with two minutes left and was able to fire it into the empty net to seal a 6-3 victory.

If I’m the coach, I’m not terribly impressed with how the Wild finished out that game. BUT, a win is a win, and this one was a no-doubter. Fast start, Dumba was better, Ennis was good (other than his turnover in the third), and Cullen was outstanding. No reason for any negative feelings after this one.

Minnesota goes back to work Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks for the last game of this six-game homestand.