Nino Niederreiter scored the overtime game-winner to give the Minnesota Wild a 4-3 victory in San Jose on Sunday night. It was the second game in a row the Wild won in overtime as they finished a California road trip winning two of three games.
That hardly tells the whole story of this contest, though.
The Wild (15-11-3) saw a 3-0 lead disappear, took seven penalties and needed some big-time saves from backup goaltender Alex Stalock against his former team to get the two points.
“Unreal,” Stalock said. “The whole deal… to get two points is pretty special.”
It was Stalock’s third win of the season.
“Well I thought it was a great character win,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “To win for Alex, I think the guys were working really hard to get that for him.”
For the Wild, it was just their fourth win in their last 15 games in San Jose. They’ve now won four of their last five games overall this season, and three of those wins were in overtime.
The Wild started out circling the Sharks around the ice and jumping out to a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period. Then a couple of Wild penalties in the latter half of the period seemed to kill the momentum.
The march to the penalty box didn’t stop much for the rest of the game. When it did, the momentum seemed to go right back to the Sharks (16-10-3) anyway.
The Wild actually got started on the right foot with special teams, even though it’s been a lopsided fight lately when it comes to power-play chances compared with their opponents. Ryan Murphy, in his sixth game on this recent call-up from Iowa, made no mistake about his first goal of the season, coming with the man advantage 4:19 into the game.
Murphy took a perfect feed from Jason Zucker who camped out behind the goal line.
“He plays with poise, which is really, really good,” Boudreau said of Murphy. “You can tell he’s not a first-year guy.”
Next, the Wild took control with a pair of goals from Eric Staal. On the first one, Ryan Suter showed tremendous patience to take the puck around the back of the net with the Sharks netminder sprawled on the ice and Sharks defenders swimming around aimlessly in front. A quick feed to Staal made for an easy goal.
Staal’s 12th goal of the season made it 3-0 when Murphy’s shot off the end glass came back out to the side of the net. Staal jammed it home along the post. With an assist on Murphy’s goal as well, Staal finished with his second three-point game of the season. He also led the Wild with six shots on goal.
Stalock held his ground in goal through nearly two periods. Then he allowed a goal in the final minute of the second period as the Wild were in the middle of a 5-on-3 penalty kill after Murphy and Staal earned trips to the box simultaneously for hooking and holding Chris Tierney.
Former Wild defenseman Brent Burns scored with his blistering shot from the circle. There wasn't much Stalock could do about that one.
“His shot, he gets it away so quick,” Boudreau said.
The tally made it a 3-1 Wild lead through two periods. The Sharks quickly made it 3-2 on another Burns rifle from the point at 2:41 of the third period, giving him a pair of power-play goals for his third and fourth of the season. Burns finished the game with eight shots on goal, two hits and 14 shot attempts.
Tomas Hertl tied the game with 5:01 left in the third period. He put the puck in a wide-open net after Stalock came out of the crease and tried unsuccessfully to freeze the puck with his glove.
The Sharks kept the pressure on the Wild until the final buzzer of the third period. Just like the tying goal seemed inevitable, so did a game-winning goal for the Sharks with the way they were playing. Boudreau even took his timeout after the tying goal to try and settle his guys down, which didn’t seem to work much.
Major credit goes to Stalock for fending off the Sharks as they smelled blood in the water at the end of regulation. The Sharks outshot the Wild 14-7 in the third period and 34-24 for the game.
Overtime was a lot of puck control on the Wild’s part, with a couple chances for the Sharks. On the winning play, Niederreiter got the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, lost it but got it right back in front of the net when Dylan DeMelo turned it over a couple feet away from him. Niederreiter kept going toward the net and put the puck in.
“I lose the puck, and I was frustrated with myself and then he gave it right back to me,” Niederreiter said.
The unassisted goal was Niederreiter’s 10th of the season, making him the third Wild player to reach double digits.
It’s not often when a team that has a 3-0 lead feels like they were lucky to get two points from a game, but that’s the kind of feeling this game had by the end.
“The resiliency is probably what catches my attention more than giving up the lead,” Boudreau said.
Stalock (3-3-1) with 31 saves. Martin Jones (11-7-2) with 20 saves.
Murphy’s goal was his first in the NHL since he scored a power-play goal April 9, 2015 at Philadelphia. It was a span of 69 games.
Murphy came in with zero points for the Wild in five games after getting called up from Iowa and ended up with a multi-point night.
Mikko Koivu has gone 20 games without a goal and seven games without tallying a point.
Five Wild players took minor penalties in the game, resulting in seven penalties and 14 penalty minutes: Mikael Granlund, Murphy (twice), Gustav Olofsson (twice), Zucker and Staal. The Sharks went 2-for-7 on the power play, while the Wild went 1-for-3.
After three road games, the Wild come home for a trio. They’ll start by facing Calgary for the second time this season on Tuesday.
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