Maybe Matt Cullen was feeling nostalgic. With the Minnesota state boys’ high school hockey tournament happening this week, it’s understandable that Cullen might flash back to his preps days as a Moorhead Spud and put the puck in the net.
Cullen, still the oldest player in the NHL at 41 years old, had one goal and an assist in the Minnesota Wild’s 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks (25-34-9) on Friday night. The game was more like 3-2 until an empty-netter and another late goal bumped the Wild’s mark to five goals. Wild players put the puck in the net for the team’s third win in a row.
They’re 8-2 in their past 10 games.
“That might’ve been Matt Cullen’s best game this year for us,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, who also praised the Cullen line. “I thought they were good because we needed them to be good.”
One goal may seem pretty modest, but Cullen’s chances could have netted him a hat-trick. He had a shot at the empty net in the waning seconds of the game but made the unselfish play of passing the puck to Charlie Coyle, who scored a much-needed goal -- his first since Feb. 10.
As the Class 2A high school hockey teams played their semifinals at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul -- Duluth East and Minnetonka prevailed -- Cullen and the Wild (39-22-7) battled with the Canucks on the west coast. Cullen was part of three state tournament teams with the Moorhead Spuds and was a Mr. Hockey candidate in 1995. It’s almost fitting that a Minnesota lad would contribute so much to the Wild’s victory during tourney time.
Cullen put seven shots on goal, a team-high for the game and the most for Cullen in a game since March 14, 2013, according to FSN. He jelled well with his linemates, Coyle and Tyler Ennis, who had an assist.
“Tonight was just a good example of how we’ve been playing as a line… we have good chemistry,” Ennis said.
Another Minnesota-born player got in on the scoring, too. Zach Parise got the scoring started for the Wild with a sharp-angle goal off the netminder’s shoulder at the 1:42 mark of the game. It actually tied the score 1-1 because Michael Del Zotto scored just 53 seconds into the contest to give the Canucks the lead.
The goal extended Parise’s point streak to six games. Parise has scored a goal in four of his past five games. Cullen’s goal put the Wild on top 2-1 just 2:46 into the second period.
It was a Wild hockey game, so Eric Staal scored a goal. His 37th of the season came with his perfect positioning in the crease to deflect a Mikael Granlund shot into the net for a 3-2 lead with 4:22 left in the second period after Jussi Jokinen scored his third of the season earlier in the period.
The other notable piece of information from the game has to do with scoring and the Wild’s defensive core: They set a franchise record for points in a single season coming from defensemen. With Marcus Foligno’s seventh goal of the season to make it 5-2 with 14 seconds left in the game, Gustav Olofsson was credited with an assist. That set the record for the Wild, giving the defensemen 170 points (35-135—170) this season in 68 games. Last season, the Wild also set a franchise record with 169 points from defensemen in the full 82 games.
The young Olofsson, with just seven assists and no goals this season, will have a nice piece of history with the club. Wild defensemen tallied three assists in the game (Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Olofsson) to help set the record.
“As a group, we’re getting excited… we have a lot to prove after last year,” Cullen said.
Devan Dubnyk (30-12-5) with 30 saves on 32 shots. Anders Nilsson (7-12-3) with 31 saves on 35 shots.
With the win, the Wild are 6-5-1 on the first night of back-to-back games.
Granlund is 5-2-1 in games against his younger brother Markus, a Canucks center.
Coyle assisted on Cullen’s goal, his 21st helper of the season.
The Canucks outhit the Wild 34-10.
The Sedin twins have just two points in three games against the Wild this season.
The Wild wrap up another back-to-back road series with a game Saturday night in Edmonton.