A couple of Minnesota Wild veterans stole the thunder of a Minnesota native.
The big news before the Wild versus Florida Panthers matchup Tuesday night was the return of Zach Parise, playing in his first NHL game this season. Instead, Matt Cullen and Eric Staal each scored a pair of goals to grab the spotlight in a 5-1 Wild victory that snapped Florida’s five-game winning streak.
With the victory, the Wild (21-16-3) improve to 10-1-1 at home since Nov. 14.
For the Panthers (17-17-5), they must dread seeing a trip to St. Paul on their hockey schedule – and not just because the temperatures hovered around zero degrees. They have never won a game in regulation at Xcel Energy Center; the Wild are 9-0-2 at home against the Panthers and 16-4-3 overall all-time.
“Our zone time really wore them down,” Parise said. “For the first two (periods) we didn’t give them a lot.”
The Wild held just a 1-0 lead through the first 20 minutes after Cullen’s first goal. He had a scoring chance earlier in the shift, then went back into the zone and tried to feed Daniel Winnik. The forward then fed defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who took the shot from the point allowing Cullen to bury the rebound falling to his knees with 5:39 left in the first.
Cullen made it 2-0 just 1:56 into the second on a double-deflection play. Gustav Olofsson, playing in his second game in a row after a string of healthy scratches, took a shot that Marcus Foligno deflected before Cullen redirected the puck a second time.
Cullen’s pair of goals doubles his season total, jumping from two to four. The former Moorhead Spud and St. Cloud State Huskies player also bumped his NHL career points total to 699. He finished with five shots on goal in the game.
Staal’s goals came just 2:39 apart later in the second period for the 4-0 lead after 40 minutes. He buried a Spurgeon rebound for the first goal, then finished off the give-and-go play from Tyler Ennis for the next one. His goals bring his season total to a team-leading 17, breaking a tie with Jason Zucker (15). Staal has 35 points this season.
“It’s been fun since the moment I signed here,” Staal said. “Good group of guys… right now keep the confidence as long as we can.”
To say the game was all Wild through 40 minutes might be an understatement. In the second period alone they outshot the Panthers, 19-2.
“I think the second period was our best second period,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, who was impressed with his team’s neutral zone play and rolled all four lines during the game.
Shots-on-goal ended up 41-26 for the game in favor of the Wild. Forty-one shots on goal is a season-high for the Wild.
They also didn’t parade to the penalty box. The Wild took just two minor penalties and their second-ranked home penalty kill went 2 for 2 (57 for 62 for the season).
Mikael Granlund also put the puck in the net in the second period, but ultimately, the goal did not stand. Mikko Koivu shot the puck which deflected off Granlund’s body as he crept near the blue paint. An official review confirmed the good-goal call. Then the Panthers challenged, saying the play was off-side. The tape showed Joel Eriksson Ek entered the zone just before the puck. Two calls, both correct.
It would have put the Wild up 3-0 with 12:54 to play in the second frame.
Parise, skating on a line with Charlie Coyle and Chris Stewart for most of the night, saw some early power-play action with Staal and Zucker after a Florida penalty just 41 seconds into the game. He also came close to a deflection-goal in front of the net with about four minutes left in the first. He finished the game with three shots on goal in his 13:35 on the ice, including 1:23 on the power play.
“He did all the right things,” Boudreau said. “He could have had a couple (goals) too.”
Sure, Parise didn’t put the puck in the net. On a night when a couple of other guys score two each though, it was OK for him to ease back into things. The ultimate good news was that Parise was on the bench or on the ice for the entire game. That’s big for a guy with so much time off after an injury.
In the third period, Florida finally got on the board with Jonathan Huberdeau’s 14th of the season to make it a 4-1 game. He’s scored five goals over his past five games; he has three goals against the Wild in two games this season.
Coyle scored his third goal of the season with an empty-net tally for the final goal of the game with 3:05 remaining. Staal was on the ice for the hat-trick-try, but the play didn’t work out that way.
Ennis continues to play well; he tallied two assists in the game giving him six for the season. Spurgeon scored a season-high three assists, giving him 16 for the season which ranks third on the team.
Devan Dubnyk (14-8-2) with 25 saves. James Reimer (11-10-4) with 23 saves and three goals allowed in 36:34 over the first and second periods; Harri Sateri (NHL debut) with 13 saves and one goal allowed in 23:07 over the second and third periods. Reimer started the game but left the game for a few minutes in the second after getting crashed into on a play. Sateri came on in relief in the second and gave up a goal before Reimer returned for the rest of the period.
Staal has 22 goals and 30 assists for 52 points in 70 career games against the Panthers.
Dubnyk improved to 8-1-0 in his career facing Florida.
The Wild haven’t lost at home since Dec. 16; they’re 13-4-2 on home ice this season.
The Wild are 15-4-2 when they score the first goal of the game. They’re 10-6-3 against the Eastern Conference.
The Wild host the Buffalo Sabres for a Thursday night tilt.