With a mostly dominant win over the Boston Bruins, the Minnesota Wild came into Buffalo to wrap up an early season four game road trip to the Northeast coast with its second road victory of the season. Rookie forward Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 4:51 of the first period - a total snipe from the right wing boards - held up as the game winner as the Wild defeated the Sabres 4-0. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk recorded his 2nd shutout in as many games.
Minnesota has been the best team in the second period so far this season, but they used a quick start in the first period to gain the upper hand on the Sabres. Joel Eriksson Ek received a pass near the center ice faceoff dot from Nate Prosser. Eriksson Ek then gained the zone, fought through a check at the blue line and found some space coming off the right wing boards. He unleashed a shot that caught twine over Anders Nilsson’s blocker. That, my friends, is an NHL caliber shot, and one that few of us saw coming so early from him. The Wild led 7-1 in shots at that point.
The Wild played a good brand of team defense and Devan Dubnyk was solid, but not tested much in throughout the period. Jason Zucker would add to the lead when the Wild forced a turnover at the blue line, went D-to-D, and back out to the neutral zone to Chris Stewart. Stewart then made a move to the middle of the ice and found Zucker in stride splitting the Sabres’ defense for a breakaway back hand goal.
Midway through the first period, the Wild ended up losing a man. Marco Scandella got tangled up with Nicolas Deslauriers in front of the Wild crease and limped off to the locker room. He did not return for the game, but early indications say that it isn’t a serious injury. Though, Boudreau after the game said that it is possible Scandella could miss some time.
The Wild must’ve thought they were sitting pretty after the first period because the second period was about as humbling period as you could get without giving up a goal. In the first six and a half minutes of the period, the Sabres threw a barrage of pucks at the Wild net - 15 shots in six minutes, including about seven on the penalty kill. Dubnyk showed incredible patience, poise, and very good movement to stop anything and everything that came his way. The Wild netminder really did look like a goalie locked on to the puck by a tractor beam. There was little wasted movements, and just didn’t try to do too much. His teammates helped out when they could, but it was failed clearing attempt after failed clearing attempt trying to go up the boards that the Wild just got caught running around.
The Wild and the Sabres were unable to find the back of the net in the second period. For the third period, the Wild were back to the team defense that they exhibited in the first. There were better breakouts, and more pressure in the offensive zone. Being down a defenseman, Coach Boudreau was forced to rely on Ryan Suter, who led the team in ice time with 27:45, and Matt Dumba, who was forced to play both right and left defense. Broudreau and Stevens did a decent job trying to even out the minutes for the defenseman - Christian Folin had 22 minutes on the ice - but there’s only so much a coach can do.
Ryan Suter scored his third goal of the season at 2:58 of the third period when a battle in the corner by Zach Parise and Folin ended up with a pass going diagonally to the left point for Suter. Number 20 then skated down the left side into the left circle and shot a wrist shot that found the top right corner of the net. Nilsson was screened by his own teammate and had no visibility on the puck until it was in the back of the net. Mikko Koivu added an empty-net goal with 1:09 remaining and the Wild would earn the victory and the shutout to close out the road trip.
For a road trip that started rocky with an overtime loss to the Devils, and a blow out loss to the Islanders, getting two win and salvaging five out of eight points is nothign to sneeze at. That said, the Wild have faced only two regular starting goalies so far this season. In Boston, they faced the back-up to the back-up, and in Buffalo, Nilsson was the back-up. Minnesota doesn’t have to apologize for winning those games, and winning them handily is what should have been expected, but the reality is that the Wild got to beat some teams dealing with goaltending problems.
Minnesota now heads home and will face the Dallas Stars on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. The Stars were trailing 4-1 to Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets as of this publishing. Dallas hasn’t gotten off to the start they were hoping for and had been dealing with some serious injury woes early in this season. The Wild better be ready to start fast against a reeling Stars squad come Saturday, or they could find themselves losing to a team that isn;t feeling all that great about itself.
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