Sunday was a busy sports day for Minnesota. The Vikings took on a division rival in Detroit and came away big winners. Around the time this article was published, Minnesota United was getting ready for their first-ever MLS playoff game. In between those two events, the Minnesota Wild took on the Montreal Canadiens in St. Paul. The Wild, who are in danger of becoming an afterthought in the Minnesota sports scene, were desperate to get things going in the right direction.
The first several minutes of the first period were fairly quiet, but with the way things have been going for the Wild this season, no news is goods news. The Wild had some chances and Devan Dubnyk had a nice save, but overall, things were pretty uneventful.
That changed, however, at 8:13 into the period when Ryan Hartman drew a four-minute high-sticking penalty. The Canadiens were able to immediately clear the zone after a Wild faceoff win and a weak Jared Spurgeon pass did not reach its intended target. It had the feeling of another unsuccessful power play. That would not last, however, as 44 seconds into the power play, Mikko Koivu found Jason Zucker, who redirected the puck into the net. After saying that everyone from Bruce Boudreau and down needed to be better, Zucker did his part and put the Wild ahead.
GOAL. Jason Zucker redirects Mikko Koivu's one-timer past Keith Kinkaid to give the Wild the lead. pic.twitter.com/2lWiulJGkg— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 20, 2019
The Wild entered this game just 1-2 when scoring first, but 0-4 when giving up the first goal, so netting that first goal was critical. In addition to not wanting to trail early in the game, it was clear that scoring first generated some good momentum. The Wild were not able to score in the second half of that four-minute power play, nor were they able to score after the Habs took a penalty at the end of the period. But overall, the team looked really good in the first period. They outshot Montreal 19-7, and the failure to score a second goal was not for a lack of trying. They made goalie Keith Kinkaid make some good saves to keep the score 1-0.
The second period was another story. In just the second minute of the period, Matt Dumba took an interference penalty and Tomas Tatar scored for Montreal on the resulting power play. A giant rebound bounced towards Tatar, and he had a wide open net to shoot at. How the Wild would respond would be a critical moment in the game. Could they re-apply the offensive zone pressure and regain the momentum or would they do what they have done far too many times this season and give up multiple goals in short period of time? Just 16 seconds later, the Wild went with the latter, as Phillip Danault made it 2-1. A Ryan Hartman pass intended for Gabriel Dumont ended up right on the stick of Paul Byron (it was a very bad passing attempt) and a couple passes later Danault had put it in the back of the net. The Wild did actually respond to the second goal fairly well. As demoralizing as it can be to play such a good first period and then quickly find themselves down 2-1, they were able to move on and generate some scoring opportunities.
And then this happened:
Keith Kinkaid with a ridiculous save on Jason Zucker. pic.twitter.com/EfhVD2sZxS— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 20, 2019
Shades of Devan Dubnyk against the Nashville Predators in the season opener.
The remainder of the second period after the second Montreal goal was fairly balanced. Both teams had good scoring opportunities, but neither could turn those chances into goals. The Wild got their fourth power play of the game late in the second period, and while they were not able to score with the man advantage, they were able to keep the puck in the offensive zone after the penalty expired. This led to an Eric Staal shot that redirected off of Luke Kunin’s skate and right to Marcus Foligno’s stick. He had a wide-open net and the game was tied at 2 a piece.
The Canadiens were able to make it 3-2 early in the third period. Brendan Gallagher threw a puck at the net, and Danault was able to pick up his second goal of the game as the puck deflected off of him and in the net. Dumba, attempting to cover Danault, crashed into Dubnyk, and he was unable to make a save.
GOAL. Danault scores off the rebound for his second of the game. Wild trail 3-2. pic.twitter.com/2b6NRyDTgl— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 20, 2019
It remained 3-2 for about five minutes with not much going for the Wild until Paul Byron took a penalty. Just six seconds into the power play, Brad Hunt reminded us how effective he can be with the man advantage.
GOAL. Soon-to-be Norris winner Brad Hunt scores on the power play to tie it. What a shot. pic.twitter.com/pHvVNCtNcI— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 20, 2019
A beautiful bomb from the top of the faceoff circle and it was tied 3-3. It went about as well as you could draw it up. Faceoff win back to Dumba, pass over to Hunt, one-timer into the net. It was absolutely perfect. What was not perfect, however, was Dumba taking a penalty just nine seconds later, ruining the Wild’s chances of maintaining any sort of momentum. They were, at least, able to kill off the penalty.
About four minutes later, the Wild were finally able to do something they had not done all season — they scored a goal off a rush. A perfect pass from Jason Zucker set up a great opportunity for Zach Parise, and just like that it was 4-3 Minnesota. Zucker deserves a ton of credit for setting that up. A pass through traffic right on the tape of the stick. Could not have been any better.
The Wild held on and kept the Canadiens from scoring with the extra attacker to win the game 4-3. The Wild picked up just their second win of the season, their first at home and passed the idle Ottawa Senators to move out of last place in the league. It was not perfect, and they definitely took advantage of the fact that the Canadiens were playing their second game in as many days, but this was the best the Wild have looked all season.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Home Sweet Home?
As mentioned, this was the first win at home this season for the Wild. It was the first time in franchise history that they did not pick up a point until the second home game.
This was the best game the Wild have played so far this season. Was it because it was on home ice? Was it because the Canadiens were playing two in a row? Was it because it was just inevitable that the Wild would eventually play a decent game? It is probably some combination of all three, but regardless, the Wild were able to win. Only three of their next 10 are at home, so the Wild will have a limited opportunity to take advantage of home ice in the coming weeks.
It is also worth pointing out that the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center are not going to be quite the same as what they used to be. For the first time in nearly six years, the Wild failed to sell out the X. If the Wild’s current state of play continues, this is a trend that will most likely continue.
2. Will the Wild actually score a goal on the power play?
Yes! Twice even! The Wild power play went 2-for-5 and was a big reason why they were able to win the game. Zucker’s goal to open the game came when Koivu threw a puck towards a body in front of the net, and that body (in this case Zucker) was able to redirect it in. The Hunt goal was a perfect play from start to finish. A perfect pass set up a great opportunity, and that was all Hunt needed to put the puck in the back of the net. Do the little things right and good things can happen.
3. Will injuries hamper Minnesota?
Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek and Victor Rask were all missing in action for the Wild. However, it did not appear their absence hurt the team too much today. Gabriel Dumont slid into the fourth-line center role in place of Eriksson Ek and Rask and was actually rather noticeable. As far as Zuccarello, it is hard to say how much his absence actually hurts the team given his total lack of production when healthy. Seven of the twelve forwards registered at least one point tonight, so a lot of the offense got involved and did their part to get in on the scoring.
For the first time in a long time, the Wild actually looked pretty good tonight. They will try to make it two in a row on Tuesday night at home against the Edmonton Oilers.