Things are lit in Minnesota. The Timberwolves have been on an uptick this season, the state is bleeding purple ahead of the Vikings NFC Divisional game on Sunday, and the Wild were hosting the Central Division leading Winnipeg Jets. When the 19,207 fans inside Xcel Energy Center got the “Skol” chant roaring with about three minutes remaining in the game, the Wild were comfortably ahead 4-1. Matt Dumba’s two 3rd period goals allowed the Wild to pull away and seal the victory.
From the moment the puck dropped for the opening face-off, the Wild were on the Jets. There were plenty of Jets fans in the building, so getting a fast start to keep their ravenous fans quiet was going to be key. Minnesota allowed just 5 shots on goal in the entire first period, whilst peppering Connor Hellebuyck with 23, a season high in the first period, and one shy of tying a franchise record for most in a single period. The Wild were in control, but only had one goal to show for it. Mikael Granlund continues to stay hot when he deflected a Ryan Suter shot from the point past Hellebuyck for the early lead at 8:47 of the first period. It was a power play goal for Granlund’s 13th of the season.
Marcus Foligno notched a career-high (for a game) six shots on goal in the first period. Foligno has been mostly an invisible player since arriving in Minnesota after the Jason Pominville trade. He’s a player that can bring physicality, and offer a net-front presence. However, that has been almost non-existent in his game so far. Maybe the broken cheek bone he suffered early in the season has him playing more timid physically. Maybe he’s just taking a long time to adjust to the new systems. That said, the Foligno that can put up six shots on goal, and add a couple assists is the Foligno this team desperately needs down the stretch.
The Wild added nine more shots on goal in the second period. Unfortunately, the Jets got 17. No worries, Devan Dubnyk played a strong game. He tracked the puck well and even had to make some nice saves. Zach Parise made an errant pass along the Jets blue line on a power play, springing Joel Armia for a breakaway. Dubnyk pounced on Armia with a sprawling poke-check as Armia dropped his head to watch the puck. The Wild netminder made 32 saves in the victory.
Jason Zucker got off the schneid when he net the Wild’s second goal. He was denied on a breakaway chance earlier in the shift, but got redemption when Mikko Koivu’s shot caromed off the end-boards right to Zucker for his 16th of the season. You could tell by the look on his face that that goal was huge for him to finally get rewarded after coming close the last handful of games, not to mention going goalless since November 24th.
Foligno was called for tripping at the end of the second, which meant the Wild would be forced to kill a penalty to start the third period. The Jets own the 2nd-best PP in the league, and it’s tough to keep them off the board. Mathieu Perreault would get 13th of the season when he re-directed a centering feed from Plymouth, MN - native Blake Wheeler. The goal would cut the Wild’s lead to one with the Jets pushing.
Some zone time for the Wild to stem the tide that are the Jets allowed the Wild to settle the momentum down. Charlie Coyle, was working the puck along the boards behind the Jets net. He found Foligno in the slot, but Foligno didn’t have a good shot with the Jets collapsing in front of their net. Foligno back-handed the puck out to Dumba in the right offensive circle. Number 24 wound up and fired a slap shot that beat Hellebuyck on the short side, just below the glove. There weren’t many goals that you could pin on Hellebuyck, but he’d like to have that one back, I’d assume.
With the Wild trying to close out the game, and momentum on their side, Dumba would rip another shot past Hellebuyck for the 4-1 lead. If third assists were handed out, Zach Parise would receive one on Dumba’s second. He helped pressure the Jets defenders to negate an icing call, and poked the puck loose behind the net. He then sent the puck to Foligno to set up the goal final tally.
Jets fans, many of whom are also Vikings fans, joined in the raucous “Skol” chant, and included Jets forward Blake Wheeler from the Jets bench. Minnesota would end the game to a resounding applause from the Wild faithful.
The Wild were 4th in the league with 100 points from defensemen this season. With Dumba scoring two goals, and Suter and Jared Spurgeon adding assists, the Wild continue to get good offense from their blue-liners.
Saturday’s game also marked the 1000th game for Wild equipment manager Matt Benz. Dubnyk and his wife are expecting their third child any day now.
The Wild picked a good night to match their season-high total for shots to take on the Central Division leaders.