Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has harped on his team’s unfortunate knack it has at blowing third-period leads or ties. Historically, the Wild also have trouble with poor starts in hockey games.
Friday night’s contest against the Nashville Predators was a pretty solid 60 minutes from the Wild – and they didn’t surrender the lead.
Mikael Granlund scored the first two goals of the game before finally getting his second career hat trick with 50 ticks remaining in the game to seal the 4-2 victory over the Predators (22-10-5) at Xcel Energy Center. Granlund hit the pipe earlier in the third period in search of the hat trick.
“I think it was the best start of the year for us,” Granlund said.
The Wild (20-15-3) handed the division-leading Predators their first road loss in regulation since Nov. 16 – which also came in St. Paul in a 6-4 decision for the Wild.
The goals gave Granlund 11 for the season, a much-needed boost as he tries to keep up with his career-year last season.
Granlund’s first goal came at 7:34 of the first period as the Wild had a jump from the start. Matt Cullen brought the puck into the zone, and after the puck nearly went into the net, Matt Dumba evaded a defender with a spin move before getting the puck to Granlund.
He rifled it through the five-hole for the goal.
The Wild played arguably one of their most complete games of the season, despite allowing 41 shots to the opposition. On that note, Devan Dubnyk looked sharp in his return, with the exception of the puck off P.K. Subban’s stick that trickled in to tie the game 1-1 midway through the first period.
“That’s a good hockey team over there… and we showed we’re capable of putting it together,” Dubnyk said.
Granlund scored his second of the game a little over a minute later on the power play for a 2-1 Wild lead. He put the puck in on the blocker side, finding space where Pekka Rinne wasn’t. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon got his 13th assists of the season, while Ryan Suter got the second assist against his former team.
Just how good was the start for the Wild? They put a season-high 18 shots on goal in the first 20 minutes.
The Wild carried the momentum over right away in the second period, as Dumba put the puck in the net just 47 seconds into the second frame. Unfortunately, Eric Staal was in the middle of the blue paint as goaltender Rinne was out of position and tried to get back to make the save.
The Predators successfully challenged the call for goaltender interference to keep it a one-goal game.
Dumba scored his second goal of the game – and the first one that counted – later in the second period with a pretty play. After Cullen did some solid work to keep the puck in the zone, Dumba got the puck at the point, dragged the puck around a defender and blasted a wrist shot from the high slot to finally give the Wild the 3-1 lead.
Dumba had a two-point night with his assist on Granlund’s first tally.
The Wild still had trouble staying out of the box. With just 9.1 ticks left in the second, Mikko Koivu took an ill-advised tripping penalty. Early in the third, Dubnyk showed some undisciplined frustration with a slash to Viktor Arvidsson. The Wild killed off the 5-on-3 but Kyle Turris made it a 3-2 game with 10 seconds left on the Dubnyk penalty -- served by Granlund -- just 2:52 into the third period.
The Predators outshot the Wild 16-9 in the final period, but unlike so many other games before, the Wild got the victory. Granlund’s hat trick was the collective sigh of relief.
They’ll get a rematch in less than 24 hours in Nashville.
“We’re hungry for the win,” Staal said. “And the biggest key now is to go into their building and do the same thing.”
Dubnyk (13-8-2) with 41 saves. Rinne (19-7-3) with 34 saves.
The Wild’s penalty kill has been perfect in six of the past nine games. They were 2 for 3 against Nashville, going 35 for 39 in that span. The Wild once again went to the box more than their opponent, going 1 for 5 on the power play.
Spurgeon also hit metal with a shot on the power play with about seven minutes left in regulation.
An errant puck came into the Wild bench area in the third period, hitting Boudreau on the noggin. He left the bench to receive medical assistance, leaving assistant coach John Anderson to take over. Boudreau was back at the bench by the end of the game. “I think (Marcus) Foligno was trying to get it out and Stewie (Chris Stewart) ducked,” Boudreau said.
The Wild have outscored the Predators 10-6 in two games so far this season.
The second half of the back-to-back series shifts to Nashville as the Wild finishes out the 2017 calendar year Saturday night.