The Minnesota Wild welcomed back long-time defenseman and former assistant captain Ryan Suter for the first time since buying him out this summer, and gave him the best present they could think of - a video tribute, and the opportunity to watch his netminder, (also former Wild player) Anton Khudobin get absolutely shelled in a dominant 7-2 Wild victory in St. Paul.
Kirill Kaprizov looked more like the Calder-winning player than he had at any point this year so far, leading the wild with a goal and four assists, his friend and unintended linemate Mats Zuccarello added a goal and two helpers, and Cam Talbot stopped 36 of 38 shots in a performance that limited Dallas to just two scoring chances in the first two periods. In fact, every Wild forward had at least one point on the night, and defenseman Alex Goligoski was the standout blueliner, scoring his first goal in a Wild uniform en route to a three-point evening himself.
Much was made of Dean Evason’s new forward lines, reuniting the GREEF line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno while also putting the Wild’s most dynamic player in Kaprizov alongside two more plodding linemates in Freddy Gaudreau and Victor Rask. But it was the offense-forward line of Kevin Fiala - Ryan Hartman - Mats Zuccarello that got the ice tilted early, with Zuccarello drawing a cross-checking call on the Stars Miro Heiskanen just over a minute in. The Wild couldn’t capitalize, but they spent most of the two minutes in the Stars zone, dominating the puck possession and getting a couple good chances.
Riding the momentum after the power play, some of the best chances came from the Wild’s fourth line Brandon Duhaime, Nico Sturm and offensive dynamo Rem Pitlick. After just missing a chance at Anton Khudobin’s left goalpost, the three regrouped to set up Pitlick with a snipe through Sturm and the defenders, beating Khudobin for the game’s first goal.
Dallas’ strong power play got their first chance of the game on a potential goal-saving hooking call on Matt Dumba, but the Wild held firm and Talbot stopped the only shot he faced.
Minutes later, the jumbled lines post-penalty-kill reunited besties Zuccarello and Kaprizov, and they teamed up for a beauty of a goal as Lizard hit Dolla Bill with a pass to Khudobin’s stick side, and Kaprizov buried the one-timer for a Wild two-goal lead.
Dallas righted the ship and evened up the shot count by the end of the first, but Minnesota continued to look strong up and down the roster as the Wild took a two-goal lead into the first intermission.
During that intermission, Kevin Gorg interviewed Pitlick and got from the forward a soundbite that was somehow simultanously hockey-generic-speak and new age technobabble:
With the lines back to normal going into the second period, Kaprizov, Gaudreau and Rask were able to maintain a bit of offensive zone time, and Gaudreau drew a holding call on Andrej Sekera. But despite a nice spin-or-rama move and pass from Kaprizov to Spurgeon, who set up Zuccarello with a great chance that Khudobin had to stop with a kick save, Fiala commited an offensive zone hooking infraction, ending the Wild’s second power play opportunity.
At the midway point of the second, Duhaime made a turnover and got caught flat-footed, resulting in the forward getting nabbed for hooking Joe Pavelski. But the best chance of the Stars power play came after Rask had a strong defensive shift, when the Wild’s Alex Goligoski came close to adding to the Wild lead while shorthanded on a pass from Gaudreau.
With about eight minutes left in the second, Jani Hakanpaa was signaled for a delayed penalty for cross-checking, and the Wild spent the next 45 seconds in complete control, setting up all kinds of chances with Talbot off for the extra attacker (even while Greenway spent about 30 of those seconds tangled with a Stars player behind the net). But the Wild couldn’t take advantage of either the delayed whistle or the power play, and Talbot stoned Roope Hintz on a shorthanded breakaway chance to keep the lead at two.
With just over a minute left in the second, the “as-advertised” Hartman jammed home the rebound after Goligoski entered the zone and drove the net on a wrap-around chance, extending the Wild lead to 3-0.
Seconds after the puck dropped to return to play, Greenway continued the smart, aggressive and feisty play he’s exhibited over the past couple games, drawing an interference call on Heiskanen, but the Wild couldn’t covert before the period ended, and Dallas killed off the remaining minute-plus in the third.
Despite dominating offensively and limiting Dallas to only three scoring chances over the first 40 minutes, in the third, the Wild seemingly came out a little flat footed. The Stars got on the board in the third with some sustained zone pressure, and while Goligoski made a good play to block the first chance from Jacob Peterson on a pass from Tyler Seguin, Peterson rifled off a second shot while falling to his knees and saw his shot ring the pipe and find the net behind Talbot, making the game 3-1.
Then Greenway earned the Wild’s fourth hooking call of the night when he got beat by Jamie Benn and didn’t keep his feet moving. But after yet another kill of the Stars’ elite power play, the Wild turned the tables back at five-on-five, when Goligoski absolutely sniped Khudobin off a Eriksson Ek pass to regain the three-goal lead, scoring his first goal of the season and his first in a Wild uniform.
The Wild continued to pour it on in the third, extending the lead on a gotta-see-it blind backhanded pass from Kaprizov to Gaudreau, where Freddy buried the pass all alone in the slot to make it a 5-1 Wild lead.
The Wild caught a break on a Dallas power play with under ten minutes to play, when a scrum in Talbot’s crease led to the puck trickling out to Tyler Seguin, who was about to unleash an uncontested blast when the referee blew the whistle, having lost sight of the puck and believing it was underneath Talbot. But the Stars shook it off and capitalized, as Jamie Benn cleaned up a Esa Lindell rebound off Talbot and defection off the skate of Dumba, making the score 5-2 with the power play clock having just reached zeroes.
But the Zuccarello-Kaprizov-Rask line quickly answered in back-to-back fashion. First, about 30 seconds later, Zuccarello made a beauty of a mini-dangle to beat Khudobin and push the Wild lead to 6-2.
Then, on the same shift, a two-on-one by Zuccarello and Kaprizov failed to click, but Rask following up swiped at the bouncing puck, which bounded up and off the head of Khudobin and just crossed the line before the Dallas defense could keep it out, giving the Wild a 7-2 lead.
With the game well in hand, one of the odder sequences happened between Duhaime and the Stars’ Radek Faksa, who had pushed and jawed at each other earlier in the period. First, Duhaime was convinced Faska wanted to go as the puck was dropped with about 4:18 to play, and Faksa was like, “lol, wut?”, leaving Duhaime all alone with his gloves on the ice. The Wild rookie got sent for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Duhaime ended up getting his wish after he got out of the box, as the two dropped the mitts and threw a couple hands before falling to the ice, and got a head start on a hot shower.
All told, Minnesota dominated pretty much from start to finish, Suter was pretty much a non-factor in his return to the X, and the Wild rebounded from an awful night against the Sharks on Tuesday by dropping seven goals on the state’s former franchise.
Next up is another three-game roadie starting Saturday against Wild beat writer Mike Russo’s favorite hockey team, the Florida Panthers.
Can they actually score more goals?
Seven, count ‘em, seven goals - a season high for finding the net in a single game.
They only ended up needing three, but more important than the quantity was the timeliness, as the line of Zuccarello-Kaprizov-Rask twice scored goals right after Wild penalties ended (the second time, answering a Dallas goal that went in just after their power play elapsed), effectively taking the wind out of Dallas’ sails and preventing any momentum for a comeback.
Will the new lines matter?
You might look at the 7-2 final and say, “man, Evason’s line blender really hit on something.” But the Wild got out to their early lead first thanks to the Wild’s fourth line, which wasn’t touched, and then a jumbled line after a penalty kill where Zuccarello and Kaprizov just happened to be on the ice together.
Whether it was the new lines, the home crowd, the desire to show up Suter (despite him telling everyone that would listen that this game had zero meaning to him) or some other reason, the entire Wild roster just came to play. There wasn’t much to dislike about any of it, whatever the reason.
Can the stars score?
Well, yeah, but every single forward had at least one point, so that’s kind of a cheat.
Kaprizov did lead the way with a four-point night on a goal and three assists.
Zuccarello had a goal and two helpers.
Goligoski had a breakout game, scoring his first goal of the season and adding two apples.
Hell, even VICTOR FREAKING RASK somehow found his way into a multi-point night.
No doubt, it’s a good night to be a Wild.