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Staal, Cullen each get a pair as Wild freezes out Panthers 5-1

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NHL: Florida Panthers at Minnesota Wild Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild flipped the calendar over to 2018, and added a missing piece to the line-up. Yep, Zach Parise made his season debut in front of 19,029 fans packed into a much warmer Xcel Energy Center. The Wild responded with an utter tail kicking of the Panthers in 5-1 fashion. Matt Cullen, Eric Staal, and even Charlie Coyle scored a random empty-net goal to put send everyone out into the cold happy with that performance.

The Panthers opened the game by sending Aleksander Barkov into Devan Dubnyk just 41 seconds into the game. Minnesota was slow to get the shots going, and Florida was playing with far more physicality. The Wild fought off the body check...some times literally. Marcus Foligno and Michael Haley decided to dance after Haley took a run at Gustav Olofsson along the near boards in the neutral zone. The Wild started putting together the offense.

Matt Cullen’s line, with Foligno and Daniel Winnik was able to keep the pressure on starting Panthers netminder James Reimer with a good cycle. Winnik retrieved the puck in the left offensive corner and sent a pass to the opposite point for Jared Spurgeon. Spurgeon wasted no time to get a shot on Reimer with Foligno providing a screen. Cullen just had to slide the puck into the net with Reimer slightly out of position on the initial shot, and that he did...while falling...to his belly. Shots were 13-9 in favor of the Wild with the one power play going Minnesota’s way.

The Wild have been a better second period team, but we’ve seen plenty of examples this season where the Wild can put forth a solid effort in the first period, and then come out flat in the subsequent periods. That wasn’t the case this time. The Wild allowed just two (2!?!?) forgetful shots on goal in the entire 20 minute stanza. Minnesota dominated the period in shots 19-2, shot attempts 26-10, and, most importantly, goals 3-0.

Cullen found the back of the net for the second time of the game not even two minutes in. It was a low wrist shot from the point by Olofsson that got double-deflected; first off the stick on Foligno, then Cullen a bit closer to the net. Cullen got the credit for the goal, and the Wild had the 2-0 lead.

At this time, Minnesota was handily taking over the game. It looked like Mikael Granlund gave the Wild a 3-0 lead after a nice back-hand shot from Mikko Koivu caromed off Reimer and then off Granlund’s knee pad into the net. After a review to call it a legitimate goal on the ice, it was then called no-goal after Florida challenged to play on the basis that it was offside. Joel Eriksson Ek, who has been having a solid few games, was just a tad early on the zone entry with Koivu.

Reimer would have to leave the game after taking a Granlund/Aaron Ekblad combo check to the head/neck area. Enter the game, Harri Sateri to make his NHL debut. The Wild dominated the whole 2:56 in the Florida end while Sateri was in goal. Eric Staal finally got the last shot on him. Staal worked his way to the slot when the puck went up to the point for Spurgeon. Spurgeon, again, quickly got a slap shot on net in which Sateri made a pad stop. The rebound went right to Staal, who made himself a memory for the kid.

Reimer then got his second of the game when Jason Zucker chased the puck down into the right offensive circle. He found Tyler Ennis in the faceoff circle with a pass, but Ennis wasn’t in the greatest of shooting positions. So, Ennis dropped the puck to Staal for the 4-0 lead. It capped off a truly dominant period for the Wild.

But you knew the Panthers were going to have a response in the 3rd. Professionals don’t take too kindly to getting embarrassed that badly. Jonathan Huberdeau ended Dubnyk’s bid for the shutout. Charlie Coyle would miss an open Eric Staal on his flank for a hat trick try, and he instead deposited a shot from the neutral zone into the empty net.

It was a dominating win for the Wild. As for Parise, he still has a way to go to get back to normal, but he did add three shots of his own in a third line role. However, that depth was noticeable. Bruce Boudreau could confidently roll all four lines, especially with Cullen’s line contributing two goals on the night. Luckily for the head coach, Nino Niederreiter will be ready for Thursday’s game against the Sabres. If the Wild were good at anything, it was depth. That depth had a dent put into it this offseason. Getting healthy, for the Wild, is absolutely pertinent to making any sort of run in the Central to get into the post-season.