Well, it wasn’t exactly pretty, but Devan Dubnyk continued his run of exceptional play to start the season, stopping 31 of 32 shots, and the Wild found just enough offense to send the struggling Coyotes home to the desert licking their wounds.
Tuesday was a weird night for Minnesota, even from before the game, because with Mikko Koivu at the hospital to witness the birth of his third child (we really need to start timing these out a little better), and Joel Eriksson Ek out with a lower body injury, Bruce Boudreau was forced to get creative. Nate Prosser dressed as a seventh defenseman, so the Wild skated eleven forwards and eventually went down to ten when Matt Hendricks left at the end of the first period with a leg injury. Like I said, it was a weird night.
Just as an aside, the Wild are always right up against the salary cap, which I get, but the decision not to recall a forward with Eriksson Ek on the shelf really should have come back to bite Minnesota. The team got away with it this time, but that’s certainly not the first time this has happened in the past few seasons, so hopefully one of these times they will learn that an additional forward is a good thing to have hanging around.
Anyway, combine all the weirdness with the fact that the Wild were on the second of back-to-back games with travel, and this one had the makings for a huge collapse in the third. To the Wild’s credit, they fought through all of those challenges and overcame another sloppy first period to finally get themselves back in the win column for just the second time this season.
The passing and puck control was anything but crisp, but despite the sloppiness, Minnesota actually had its best start of the season Tuesday, really dominating the play in the first half of the frame. It definitely should have taken the lead a couple times in that window, but missed some golden opportunities. With nine minutes remaining, Eric Staal set up Jason Zucker with a no-doubter wide open net that Zucker shanked into the trees. If this were golf, Zucker would have had to play his next shot with his pants around his ankles.
Minutes later, as Zucker struggled to pull up his proverbial pants (to be clear, he didn’t actually take his pants off), and with Greg Pateryn serving a very soft slashing minor, Brendan Perlini got the Coyotes on the board first at the 13:12 mark. Perlini looped below the face-off circle to Dubnyk’s left and somehow, from a terrible angle and in close proximity of the 6’6” netminder, managed to find a space exactly the size of the puck over Dubnyk’s shoulder. Perlini was outstanding all night for Arizona, looking big, skilled, and physical throughout.
The goal really turned the tide in Arizona’s favor, but Dubnyk stood tall the rest of the way to get his team to the first horn.
The momentum was fully in favor of the Coyotes in the opening minutes of the second, but the Wild got a good old-fashioned gift from their old pal Darcy Kuemper just shy of the four-minute mark. Mikael Granlund got the puck in the neutral zone, carried it over the blueline, and just sort of lofted a quick wrist shot from the top of the slot. With Niklas Hjalmarsson perhaps providing a partial screen, the puck somehow fooled Kuemper and found the top corner to even the score at 1. Aside from that flub, Kuemper was VERY good for Arizona, as he played his very typical style of being athletic and sometimes dominant, but also mixing in a brief lapse here and there.
Despite a bone-headed high sticking penalty by Eric Fehr following the goal, the Wild did maintain some momentum after tying the score. As Fehr jumped out of the box, the Wild found themselves on a 3-on-1, which culminated with Staal getting absolutely robbed by Kuemper for his first of several highlight reel saves.
A couple minutes later, Dubnyk made a great pad save of his own, as Perlini again found himself on the doorstep with the puck on his stick. Minnesota’s outstanding backstop slid over for his best save of the night at that point, a sprawling pad stop. But before Dubnyk could even dust himself off from his previous act of larceny, budding superstar Clayton Keller patiently circled all the way across the Wild zone with Minnesota’s defenders sliding all over the ice. Rather than force the shot, Keller found Jordan Oesterle on the far halfwall, but Dubnyk again slid across for another highway robbery, this time with his chest protector.
Next it was Kuemper’s turn again. With 4:18 remaining, Granlund dished to Charlie Coyle, who went cross-crease to a wide open Zach Parise. Parise got good wood on a one-timer, but again, Kuemper slid across and made a solid pad save.
There were a couple of buttclench moments at the end of the period at both ends, as “Ni-no-goals” Niederreiter (I’ll show myself out) made a beautiful move but just slid the puck beyond the left post. Poor Nino just can’t buy a goal. Then at the other end, the Coyotes had an open net, but jammed it into the side just long enough for Dubnyk to recover and freeze the puck.
The horn sounded with the teams still level at 1-1, in what was suddenly shaping up to be quite the goalie duel.
After getting robbed repeatedly by Kuemper in the second, the Wild finally broke through seven minutes into the third. After a chest save by Kuemper left him down and out of the crease, a rolling puck wobbled out to Zucker, who returned the earlier favor by Staal and found his linemate in the slot. With the net empty, Staal didn’t make the same mistake that Zucker had made in the opening period, and instead deposited the puck to give Minnesota its first lead of the night.
Shortly thereafter, Dubnyk added another gigantic save to his highlight reel, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a pass in the slot and rifled it toward the Wild goal. Dubnyk just got his right pad on the pointblank shot to maintain the lead.
In the final minutes, Minnesota went into a complete defensive shell, but did so effectively, as everything from Arizona came from outside. Coach Rick Tocchet pulled Kuemper in the final two minutes, but an ill-advised penalty by young Dylan Strome for crushing Jared Spurgeon from behind into the boards really sealed it for the Wild.
Again, it wasn’t prefect, and really, this win may have been the product of playing another struggling team more than anything. But the Wild badly needed a victory Tuesday. They did show some positive flashes in the second and third periods, which ultimately led to their second ‘W’ of the year and first in regulation.
As they say, a win is a win, and Minnesota gets back to .500 at 2-2-2. Phew!