When the Minnesota Wild put Chris Stewart on waivers, they may have had their reasons. In turn, though, they lost a veteran forward and resident tough guy. Maybe defenseman and Eden Prairie native Nick Seeler can fill that void.
Seeler has played in just 11 games with the Wild and has two assists. On Sunday, he made perhaps his biggest contribution to his team: He got into a fight with Luke Witkowski of the Detroit Red Wings (26-29-10) in the second period of the 4-1 Wild victory in St. Paul. It appeared to be an immediate response by Seeler after Witkowski tried to take out Zach Parise in open ice and missed.
The fight wasn’t one of these standoffs where the guys skate around waiting for the other to throw the first punch and then either fall to the ice in a pile or get broken up by the officials. No sir, this looked like an old-school NHL hockey fight. The Wild (37-22-7) were already going on the power play, and Seeler and his fighting buddy each went to the box with fighting penalties.
But Seeler sparked his team after a lackluster first period in which the Wild got down 1-0 on a Justin Abdelkader goal just 3:58 into the game.
“Thought it was the right time to stand up,” Seeler said.
Said head coach Bruce Boudreau: “He fought a true heavyweight. And that was probably one of the best fights in the NHL this year, I would think.”
Just 41 seconds after the fight and on a power play, the Wild grabbed a 2-1 lead at 7:22 of the second period.
It started on that ensuring power play when Jared Spurgeon sent a puck toward the net. Mr. Goal Scorer Eric Staal was right in front for the redirection off his skate for his 34th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1. Just 3:07 later, they had the lead after Mikko Koivu generated a Red Wings turnover. Nino Niederreiter got the puck and passed it over to a streaking Parise who buried the puck from a sharp angle on the side of the goal.
The Wild had a much better second period than the first, even if they seemed to be on their heels a bit in the closing minutes of the middle frame.
“We knew that wasn’t the first period we wanted to have,” Zucker said. “It was good to get that power-play goal there and pick it up.”
For Staal, he now has his most goals in a season since he scored 40 in 82 games during the 2008-09 season. His 34 tallies ties him for fourth in the NHL in goals this season, and he’s also tied for third for the most goals in a single season on the Wild’s all-time list with Brian Rolston (34 goals in 2005-06).
The Wild were holding onto that 2-1 lead late until a Mikael Granlund shot from the circles got past the Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard. Jason Zucker tipped it into the net for a two-goal lead with 4:18 left in the third period. Zucker got his second goal of the game, his 28th of the season, on an empty-netter at the 16:22 mark of the third.
The victory snaps a brief two-game losing streak for the Wild after a couple disastrous games on the road against Arizona and Colorado.
“A win helps,” Parise said. “It was good that we were able to rebound after the first period.”
Devan Dubnyk (28-12-5) with 28 saves on 29 shots. Howard (18-22-7) with 23 saves on 26 shots.
Niederreiter’s assist on the second goal was his 200th career point and 100th career assist.
Koivu saw his three-game goal streak snapped, but his assist on Parise’s goal pushes his point streak to four games.
Parise has points in five of his last six games. He has four goals and eight assists in 27 games this season.
Ryan Suter had two assists in the game, extending his team lead to 39 for the season.
Luke Kunin left the game injured. After the game, Boudreau said he would know more on Monday.
The Wild host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday before Xcel Energy Center is taken over by the best boys’ state high school hockey tournament in the country Wednesday through Saturday.
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