Forget the injuries and the wacky schedule to start the season. Maybe it was just a nice long homestand the Minnesota Wild needed to get their winning juices flowing. The latest example was a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions Saturday.
“It’s been a strange start to the year,” said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. “We’ve been kind of trying to get to our identity.”
They’ve found it over the past few games, he said.
The Wild (4-3-2) beat the Pittsburgh Penguins (7-4-1) with a game-winning goal to cap a great night for captain Mikko Koivu. The game was knotted at 1-1 after the first two periods. In the middle of the third, defenseman Mike Reilly took a slapshot toward the net. Koivu showed up in front of the net for a perfect tip-in deflection goal at 9:03. It was his fourth of the season. Kyle Quincey also earned an assist, on a play that developed off a Penguins turnover.
“I think we’re starting to show the way we need to play to win hockey games,” Koivu said.
That was all they needed as their defense kept the Penguins off the scoreboard for the final two periods. In the final minutes, the Wild kept pressuring and ended up on the power play right about the time the Penguins would have liked to have pulled the goalie for the extra attacker. Koivu continued his solid effort for the night with an offensive faceoff win, allowing the Wild to control the puck and keep the Penguins from pulling their goalie.
Koivu should have ended the night with two goals. In the final seconds of the third with goalie Matt Murray pulled, Koivu skated into the zone with the puck and had a clear shot at the net. He banked the puck off the outside of the post along the ice. At any rate, he led the team with six shots on goal.
As noted in the game preview, something had to give with the Wild’s perfect penalty kill at home versus the best road power play on the other bench. Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal in the first period with Koivu in the box to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
A couple minutes later, Daniel Winnik scored his second goal of the season after he made a drop pass to former-Penguin Matt Cullen who shot the puck from the blue line. Winnik drove to the net and scored.
The second period saw a few scoring chances but was otherwise a less-than-crisp-and-clean stretch of hockey. Each team registered just six shots on goal in the second. The Wild finished the period with power-play time but couldn’t convert despite a flurry of last-second chances.
Not only did the Wild get the victory for their first consecutive wins this season, they also showed some defensive spark. Koivu led the team in shutting down the Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Conor Sheary line for Pittsburgh. Dubnyk looked particularly sharp in goal, not letting rebounds get away from him and only surrendering the Malkin goal.
“When you’re an elite goalie, you bear down and do what you have to do,” said coach Bruce Boudreau.
As Dubynk noted after the game, the goals against have piled up this season. They gave up at least four goals in five of the first eight games. The Wild don’t have a shutout on the season yet, but Saturday was as close as they got by giving up just one goal. They also blocked 18 shots to just seven for the Penguins.
“Sometimes a challenge against a team like that is something that you need early in the year to really get you dialed in,” Dubnyk said. “I thought everybody was from top to bottom.”
Dubnyk (3-3-1) with 29 saves. Murray (7-1-1) with 27 saves.
It wasn’t with a goal at stake, but goaltender interference came up again late in the second period. Reilly wasn’t looking and toppled over Murray. But Murray was a few feet in front of his crease. That’s certainly legal for a goaltender, but when an opposing skater is going by looking at the play in the zone, he shouldn’t expect a goalie in open ice like that. Reilly was called for a two-minute minor for goaltender interference.
The Wild’s power play went 0-for-4. They’re 6-for-29 on the season.
Boudreau said after the game that the most important thing was getting two wins in a row to get back over .500.
Jared Spurgeon assisted on Winnik’s goal for his fifth point in the last four games.
Following the game, the Wild reassigned three forwards to Iowa: Joel Eriksson Ek (1-2—3 in nine games), Luke Kunin (1-2—3 in six games) and Zack Mitchell (0-1—1 in four games). Kunin and Mitchell scored their first NHL goals in Thursday’s win over the New York Islanders. The Wild have a couple days off and a chance to save some salary cap space with the moves.
The longest homestand of the season is halfway done. The Wild host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
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