The Minnesota-born Wild players took Hockey Day Minnesota to heart, apparently.
They all seemed to find their way onto the scoresheet in a 5-2 victory over one of the NHL’s best teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning (31-12-3), Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. It was also the 12th annual Hockey Day Minnesota on FOX Sports North with hockey coverage all day long.
Minneapolis native Zach Parise scored his first goal of the season. Elk River native Nate Prosser, who loves to put the puck in the net on Hockey Day, scored his second of the season. Veteran forward Matt Cullen reached a career milestone with his seventh assist of the year. In his Wild debut, Eden Prairie’s own Kyle Rau earned an assist.
You can’t script the game any better.
The only Minnesota-born Wild player who didn’t register a point in the game was the backup goaltender and St. Paul native Alex Stalock.
He probably felt left out on the bench.
Maybe the Wild (25-17-5) should tell themselves it’s Hockey Day Minnesota every day. They’re 9-2-1 all-time on the celebration of the State of Hockey.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging signs of the game was the great start the Wild had in the first period, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission with a 10-6 shot advantage. The Friday practice to gather the players back together after the bye week must have been a good one.
In the other meeting between these two teams this season, the Wild were shut out in Tampa 3-0 on Dec. 23. Tampa Bay is the best team in the NHL, and the Wild proved right from puck drop that they were ready for it.
They got the scoring started about halfway through the first period just off a faceoff and right at the beginning of a Wild power play. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored his sixth goal of the season with a blast from the point for a 1-0 lead.
With 2:36 to go in the first, the Wild went up 2-0 on a shot from Ryan Suter with Parise out front. The goal was initially credited to Suter. Tampa Bay challenged the call for goaltender interference, but the call was confirmed as a good goal. Then it was announced that Parise actually scored his first of the season in his eighth game back.
Prosser made it 3-0 in the second period when he somehow snuck the puck in between the goaltender and the pipe for his second goal of the season. Mr. Elk River has played 304 career games in a Minnesota uniform. He scored the game-winner in the 2014 edition of Hockey Day Minnesota. His tally in this game turned out to be the game-winner as well.
“He plays a simple game and does the easy things and takes direction extremely well,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Assists on Prosser’s goal went to Joel Eriksson Ek, his sixth, and Rau, for his first point with the Wild.
Rau was an outstanding player at Eden Prairie High School, leading the team to the 2011 boys’ state hockey Class 2A title and earning Mr. Hockey honors. He was recalled from Iowa on Friday, and became an important factor in Wild history by just stepping on the ice. His older brother Chad played nine games with the Wild from 2011-12. They’re the only brothers to play for the Wild.
“I thought he stepped in and didn’t look out of place,” Boudreau said.
Rau finished the game with 6:56 of ice time, two shots on goal, a hit and a takeaway.
Virginia native, Moorhead Spud and St. Cloud State graduate Cullen finally got his 700th career point with an assist on the Marcus Foligno goal in the third period. Cullen is the 24th active NHL player (233rd overall) to reach the even-numbered milestone. Cullen dished the puck from behind the goal line out to a waiting Foligno for his fourth goal of the season.
In the third period up 4-1, the Wild were faced with a 5-on-3 kill for a full two minutes on two minors called against Gustav Olofsson and Matt Dumba. Devan Dubnyk came up with a few spectacular saves at first but then inadvertently kicked the puck into his own net when it got behind him. Boudreau unsuccessfully challenged the call for goaltender interference.
So, that made it a two-goal game against with 13:23 left in the period and still 38 seconds left with a Wild penalty kill. Brayden Point scored both goals in the game for the Lightning.
Jason Zucker, a bit snakebitten lately and also couldn’t quite get shots off on a couple decent scoring chances earlier in the game, scored an empty-net goal from all the way at the other end of the rink to seal the deal. Dubnyk got credit for his third assist of the season.
Eric Staal assisted on the first two goals of the game (Spurgeon, Parise), bringing his season total to 21 assists and 40 points for the season.
After that, the celebration was on. The Wild can feel confident in coming out of the bye week with a very solid effort, showing no signs of rust or sloppiness. That would have been pretty predictable.
Dubnyk (18-9-3) with 21 saves on 23 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy (27-9-2) with 30 saves on 34 shots.
The Wild improve to 14-7-3 all-time against the Lightning, including a 10-2-0 mark and six-game winning streak on home ice.
The home record improves to 16-4-4 for the Wild.
Each team scored a power-play goal. Tampa Bay’s tally came during a 5-on-3 advantage in the third period.
Tyler Ennis went through concussion protocol, according to Boudreau after the game, after taking a hit in the first period. He returned to the game and played a total of 5:13.
Suter turns 33 years old on Sunday.
The Wild host the Ottawa Senators on Monday night.