They lost in the new pizza palace in Detroit. Then they played some uncharacteristic hockey in a shootout loss in Raleigh. It was a full four days before the Minnesota Wild got their shot again, but they finally slid into the win column with a 5-2 victory over the division-rival Chicago Blackhawks (3-1-1) on Thursday night.
Right away, the Wild (1-1-1) looked much better, controlling the puck well in the scoreless first period as they outshot the Blackhawks 8-6.
“I think it stemmed from the guys in practice all week, really practiced hard, and they came in here wanting to win,” said coach Bruce Boudreau.
In the second period, Devan Dubnyk made 16 saves, keeping the Blackhawks off the board. Eric Staal got the scoring started in the final minute of the second period for a 1-0 lead into the second intermission. He buried a cross-ice feed from Charlie Coyle. Chicago’s Ryan Hartman tied the game in the third. Instead of a repeat performance from Saturday, the Wild took the lead a couple minutes later and didn’t surrender it again.
The goal scorer? Chris Stewart, of course. He had the easy tap into a wide-open net on a pretty pass from Jason Zucker near the front of the net. Goals haven’t come easily for the Wild, and this one went for a review to see if Zucker entered the zone offside. Luckily for the Wild, the replay gods were with them -- 2-1 lead.
Stewart isn’t the offensive X-factor one might expect, but he’s the team’s leading scorer with another pair of goals against the Blackhawks. He’s scored in all three games so far and already has five points next to his name this season.
Zucker scored a power-play goal soon after the Stewart play to make it a 3-1 margin. The Blackhawks pulled Corey Crawford early, leaving the door open for a pair of empty-netters from Stewart and Mikko Koivu. Jonathan Toews scored with under a minute remaining, making the score 5-2.
The real story for the Wild right now isn’t on the ice. It’s the injury bug. All part of the game, sure, but the injuries are spreading faster than the mumps. The Wild were already skating 11 forwards and seven defensemen Thursday, down forwards Zach Parise (with an undisclosed injury) and Mikael Granlund (groin).
They lost three more skaters before the 60 minutes of hockey were up at United Center. The latest victims: Marcus Foligno, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle.
Niederreiter and Coyle left the arena in boots.
Depending on severity, #mnwild very well could be short players Saturday
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) October 13, 2017
Boudreau said after the game that he didn’t think Coyle or Niederreiter would play in the home opener Saturday, and he wasn’t sure if Foligno will be available. Parise and Granlund will still be out as well.
Even with all the injuries, the Wild still found a way to win. Of the first three games this season, they go into Chicago and win there. Go figure. Zucker called it a “gutsy win” for the Wild. Stewart mentioned resiliency. Boudreau also used those words in his postgame comments.
“I think it was a really gutsy effort by our club,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played that shorthanded in the NHL.
Dubnyk with 36 saves. Crawford with 29 saves.
For those that like round numbers, Thursday’s win was no. 100 for Devan Dubnyk when wearing a Wild sweater. He’s 179-137-37 in his NHL career.
The Wild out-hit the Blackhawks 32-25.
Saturday’s lineup and pairings could be interesting, with the team down at least four, possibly five, forwards.
The Wild are one of the last teams in the NHL to play a home game. They’ll host the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-1-0) in the home opener at 7 p.m. CT Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
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