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Wild hang on as Jets third period surge falls short

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Jason Zucker scored 2 goals in the Minnesota Wild’s 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night in St. Paul

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

After skipping Boston altogether, the Minnesota Wild finally showed up on the ice Thursday night back in St. Paul. The Wild welcomed the Winnipeg Jets to town, along with their throngs of fans. In two previous meeting between the teams this season the Wild came out on top, and it would be more of the same tonight as the Wild withstood a relentless third period attack from the Jets to emerge victorious 3-2.

For the Wild, the win brings them back into the playoff picture, desperately clinging to the 8th seed until the Anaheim Ducks play their next game. The Jets missed an opportunity to jump into a tie for the lead in the Central with the Nashville Predators who lost in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The game can really be split into two distinct games. One where the Wild were playing some great hockey. They were skating hard, winning puck battles, and getting some great chances on net that led to goals. In the other, a defensive shell game. One that was nearly impervious as the defense was backed into a corner for the final 20 minutes and came out of that only relenting a single goal.

The Wild did come to play today, and right out of the gate. Charlie Coyle had another great game. The folks on NBC could literally not stop gushing over him. It was disgusting. But the team was playing great. The Wild were perfect on the PK Thursday night, the defense was stifling on all three kills and only allowed 1 shot on goal. The Wild even managed to convert on 1 of their 2 power play opportunities in the game.

The Wild controlled much of the first two period through the faceoff dot. The Wild won 66% of the draws and used that advantage to advance the play up the ice leading to 22 shots on goal through the first 2 periods. They wouldn’t even register a shot on goal in the 3rd period so there’s your shot total.

Jordan Greenway would get the scoring started just over 5 minutes in with his second goal in four games. The play developed as Jared Spurgeon pinched along the wall and fed the puck back behind the net to Eric Staal. Staal fed the puck out front to Greenway who crept into the slot and wristed one high stick-side on Connor Hellebuyck.

The story of the game however was Jason Zucker. Zucker scored two goals in the game after only finding the twine once in his previous 14 games. They were a couple of nice looking goals too. Both of Zucker’s goals came in the last half of the second period, the first being a power play marker, and the second just after Zucker got out of the box.

Zucker was camped out right in front of Hellebuyck for his first goal on the power play. Mikko Koivu fed a nice pass through and Zucker deflected it just inside the far post. On Zucker’s next goal, as he got out of the penalty box Zach Parise express aired the puck to Zucker who was well beyond the Jets defense. Zucker was able to reign in the puck and roofed one past Hellebuyck over the blocker.

Mikael Granlund nearly ended his goal drought as well. He had Hellebuyck moving away from the puck a nice deke but was unable to tuck it inside the post. Charlie Coyle was once again all over the ice. He was blocking shots, creating havoc in the passing lanes, and for much of the game just being a general pain in the posterior on the forecheck. Dude has found another gear lately so any day the rest of our slumping artists want to turn it back on would be fine now.

Brandon Tanev would score for the Jets in the waning moments of the second period and the third period was all Jets. Tanev wrangled up a loose puck in the slot after a Dmitry Kulikov shot was blocked. Tanev turned to give himself a little room and fired the puck past Devan Dubnyk.

The Wild could get absolutely nothing going in the third with their only real chance being the aforementioned Granlund opportunity. They had collapsed back into a defensive shell and the Jets poured 13 shots on Dubnyk in the 3rd period. The Wild holding the Jets to just 13 shots on goal in the final period is actually impressive given just how much time the Jets spent in the Wild’s end of the ice.

With just under 3 minutes to go the Jets were down by two and would pull their goalie. Mark Scheifele would find the puck on his stick all alone in the slot and he adjusted his angle a bit and ripped a wrister bast Dubnyk to pull the Jets within striking distance. The Wild managed to pull through though and preserved a 3-2 win.

While it was playing with fire, the Wild’s defensive showing in the third was actually a little remarkable. The Jets had endless time and were using their size and speed well, trying to claw back into the game but the Wild hung in there in a seemingly endless onslaught. Dubnyk stopped 26 of 28 in the game and the Wild have now won 4 of their last 5 games while are starting to look like a playoff threat once again.

Jared Spurgeon finished the game with two assists and won first star of the game for that, presumably. Personally I think he won the first star when he laid a big hit on Blake Wheeler in the third period, but what do I know. Zucker’s two goals were only good enough to garner him the second star of the game. He didn’t knock Wheeler on his butt. You be the judge.

Next up for your Minnesota Wild, a Saturday evening contest against the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings will be on the second night of back-to-backs after a Friday night game against the Jets so they could be a little gassed as they take to the ice in St. Paul. The Wings have won just 1 game of their last 9 leading into Friday night’s game against the Jets. Puck drop at the X is scheduled for 7 pm on Saturday.