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Wild Open California Swing With a Win in Anaheim

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The Wild had themselves a night and earned a crucial win.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Anaheim Ducks Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Going into Tuesday night’s matchup in Anaheim, the Minnesota Wild were 1-8-0 on the road to start the season. All those games were in October and tonight, it was time for the Wild to change the script with a perfect opportunity on their current West Coast road swing. In years past, the West Coast was a tough road swing, but the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks have all had their own cases of early-season struggles.

The Wild played spoiler tonight, as long-time Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf earned his silver stick during a pregame ceremony for playing in his 1,000th career regular-season game — all with the Ducks.

They played the role of spoilers just right, as they came back from a two-goal deficit for the first time this season, beating the Ducks 4-2 after giving up two goals to open up the second period. Goals from Rickard Rakell and Jacob Larsson were scored 25 seconds apart to give Anaheim a 2-0 lead.

It seemed like a tale Wild fans are already all too familiar with this season. Early-period goals against and they were coming in bunches. Tonight, the Wild were able to flip the script and survive the costly 25 seconds where they had defensive breakdowns that allowed the Ducks to go up by two early.

For the second game in a row, Wild forward Kevin Fiala found the back of the net. After a commanding shift from Jared Spurgeon, defenseman Ryan Suter dished a nice feed through the slot to a perfectly placed Fiala. The Wild forward made no mistake by one-timing it past John Gibson.

Minnesota’s scoring didn’t stop there as they opened the third period with a pair of goals of their own. Mats Zuccarello notched his third goal in just as many games as he was sent in all alone on Gibson after stepping out of the penalty box. Joel Eriksson Ek made a heads-up play by sending a pass in Zuccarello’s direction instead of dumping the puck. Zuccarello kept it simple with no deke, and released a wrister that found its way past netminder John Gibson.

A little over three minutes later, the Wild took their first lead of the game. This time it was Eric Staal’s turn. The line of Jason Zucker, Staal, and Zuccarello was buzzing all night long and truly propelled the team to victory in the end as the game-winning goal scored by No. 12 was in his office. Zucker received a cycle pass from Zuccarello, which he then centered out front to a parked Staal, who has scored in a similar fashion countless times over the course of his 16-year NHL career.

The Minnesota Wild were able to hold on strong as Stalock and the gang could not be denied their first victory in the month of November. The struggling Zach Parise buried an empty-netter to seal the victory. Hopefully, that will inject some confidence into his game going forward, as the Wild are going to need him if they want to turn this ship around.

Answers to the Burning Questions

1) Will Kevin Fiala get going?

Yes. He has been significantly better and more. It truly is crazy how much scoring a goal can do for one’s confidence. Wild fans saw it two weeks ago with Eric Staal. He got his first goal of the season, and now has rattled off five goals and four assists in seven games. Now, we’re seeing it with Fiala. He scored his first goal of the season on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues and it seemed as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Since that goal, his confidence is noticeably better. Fiala isn’t forcing the puck when he shouldn’t and is making the correct pass when it’s the right play. He has rapidly improved over the course of the past two games. Let’s hope for his sake and Wild fans’ sake, that he continues his strong play of late.

2) Can the Wild start periods strong?

Yes and no. The first period was a wash. Both teams played horribly during the first frame. The second period was atrocious on the Wild’s end. Goals against the Wild early in the period are starting to become as common as your uncle asking you about your thoughts on Bitcoin for this Wild team. Within the first two minutes of the second period, the Wild suffered two goals by the Ducks. Both were avoidable. The first was a defensive collapse and Parise failed to pick up his man — Rakell — in the slot after defenseman Jonas Brodin committed to Ducks’ forward Sam Steel.

In a blink of an eye, 1-0 became 2-0. Granted, a well-positioned screen in front of Stalock helped Jacob Larsson scored his first career NHL goal. The Wild were lackadaisical following the Rakell goal, allowing the Larsson shot to even be a possibility.

Fortunately for the Wild, they finally had their own good start to a period, and in the most important period of a hockey game as well. Minnesota scored two goals in the first five minutes of the third period and never looked back. The goals by Zuccarello and Staal edged the momentum back into Minnesota’s favor and the team was able to ride it out to victory. Because of that, I feel that their error to open the second period is canceled out by their stellar start to the third period.

I guess we’ll see on Thursday in San Jose if the Wild can truly start periods strong.

3) Will John Gibson continue to dominate the Wild?

I mean, he tried. But no, John Gibson did not dominate the Wild as he has in the past. He finished the night saving 22 of Minnesota’s 25 shots for a .880 save percentage. That is well south of his .948 career average against the Wild and his current .926 save percentage. Tonight, the Wild got the better of John Gibson.

The Wild started their California road swing with a 4-2 win in Anaheim. Up next are the struggling San Jose Sharks, although they did beat the Chicago Blackhawks tonight 4-2 with Evander Kane netting his team-leading ninth goal of the season. Hopefully the Wild can build off their second win on the road this season and flip the script of their recent road woes. The “Tale of Two Five-Win Clubs” premiers at the SAP Center in San Jose on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. CST.