It was a game where goals came in bunches. Ultimately, the Minnesota Wild got back on the win train with a 6-3 win Saturday night in San Jose in the regular-season finale. The game had a little bit of everything, from tying team records, to players getting their first NHL points and multi-goal games.
The Wild finish the regular season with a 45-26-11 record and hit the 100-point mark for the fourth time in franchise history and second consecutive year. They swept the season series against the Sharks, 3-0, with a couple of overtime victories and a goal-filled affair.
“I thought our team played really hard,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
As was noted in the pregame piece, the Wild didn’t have anything to play for coming into game No. 82 of the regular season. They were already set for the playoffs. But that didn’t stop them from jumping all over the Sharks (45-27-10) in the first period.
The Wild owned the offensive zone in the first 20 minutes and took a 1-0 lead at the 10:53 mark with a point-blast from Jonas Brodin for his sixth goal of the season and 100th point of his career.
The Wild kept pressuring with a great shift from the Charlie Coyle/Tyler Ennis/Matt Cullen line.
Coyle offered up a perfect feed to Cullen, who took a shot at a wide-open net with the goaltender out of position. But Cullen clanked iron. Sometimes it takes games before players can capitalize on a missed chance when they hit the post. For Cullen, he didn’t even have to wait for another shift.
Ennis had the puck behind the net and, with his stick behind his back, somehow managed to slide the puck toward Cullen on the other side. Cullen buried it this time for his 11th goal of the season and a 2-0 Wild lead with 5:08 left in the first period.
Shots on goal were 11-2 in favor of the Wild after the Cullen goal. Then the Sharks found a lucky redirection shot and capitalized on a Wild mistake to tie the game in a span of one minute, four seconds. It was two goals on the next two shots in the hockey game.
First, former Wild defenseman Brent Burns fired a shot from along the boards at the blue line after the Wild failed to clear the zone. It was 2-1 with 4:32 left in the period. Then, Matt Dumba lost the puck in his own zone and the Sharks smelled the chum. Joe Pavelski rushed into the slot, was fed the puck and fired it past Devan Dubnyk to tie the game 2-2 with 3:28 to play in the first.
“It was a shame that we came out of the first period tied, because that might have been our best first period of the year,” Boudreau said.
There were still 40 minutes of hockey left, but the Wild’s solid road period turned on a dime with those costly mistakes.
In the second, the Wild had trouble generating that same type of offensive pressure early on. Then the floodgates opened and they scored two goals in 28 seconds to regain their two-goal lead. Mikael Granlund broke the tie with 8:41 left in the period on the team’s second shot on goal of the period with his snipe-shot from the circle. Jordan Greenway fed Granlund the puck, earning his first career NHL assist.
Not long after, it was 4-2 Wild on Jason Zucker’s 32nd goal of the season. Dumba sent the puck up ice to Nino Niederreiter who had Eric Staal and Zucker with him on the rush. Niederreiter sent the puck cross-ice to Zucker, who went to the net and scored with a nifty backhand move.
Zucker made it 5-2 with 4:35 left in the period for his 33rd goal of the season. To sum up, that’s three Wild goals in a span of four minutes, six seconds after they failed to register a shot on goal for the first half of the second period.
Not too much excitement in the third period, except for the game’s first penalties and a late Sharks goal with 1:10 left. Oh, and Staal scored an empty-net goal with 25.5 ticks remaining for his 42nd tally of the season to tie the franchise record for goals in a single season. Marian Gaborik scored 42 in 2007-08.
“It’s cool,” Staal said. “This is a great franchise… to get your name alongside Marian [Gaborik] it means something special.”
Wild defenseman Louie Belpedio made his NHL debut and jumped right on the scoresheet with assists on the Cullen and Zucker’s second goal. Belpedio also had a hit and blocked shot in 15:47 of ice time.
“I think I got a little bit lucky on both of them (assists), to be honest,” Belpedio said. “All of the guys in here played extremely well.”
Said Boudreau: “I thought he played pretty good for his first NHL game.”
Ennis and Niederreiter also had two-assist games. Dubnyk earned his 35th victory of the season in net.
Dubnyk (35-16-7) with 27 saves on 30 shots. Martin Jones (30-22-6) with 14 saves on 19 shots in two periods; Aaron Dell with 4 saves on 4 shots in the third period.
The Wild are 12-6-2 in their past 20 contests against the Sharks and 4-2-1 in their past seven in San Jose.
The Wild outshot the Sharks 12-5 in the first period, the Sharks outshot the Wild 18-5 in the third and 30-24 for the game. The Wild scored six goals on 24 shots, so 25 percent of their shots hit the back of the net.
Staal ends the season with 42 goals and 34 assists for 76 points to lead the Wild. Granlund follows with 21 goals and 46 assists for 67 points, along with Zucker and his 33 goals and 31 assists for 64 points.
The Wild face the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next week. The series starts Wednesday or Thursday; the schedule has yet to be released.