The Minnesota Wild returned from the All-Star break and bye week with one of the worst performances we’ve seen from them all season. In a completely lopsided affair, the Wild took a 6-1 shellacking on home ice to the Boston Bruins. Luckily, the Wild responded positively to the rout and took down the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday.
Thursday night, Minnesota kept the momentum going. The Wild welcomed the Vancouver Canucks to St. Paul for the second time this season. Vancouver was without star forward Elias Pettersson Thursday night, giving the Wild an excellent opportunity to take advantage of a Canucks team missing its top weapon. And they delivered.
Vancouver had the league’s eighth-ranked power play entering the contest. But with Pettersson out of commission, the Wild managed to hold off what, on most nights, is one of the best power play units in hockey. Granted, the Canucks did convert on a pair of power plays — one in the second period when J.T. Miller beat Alex Stalock to get Vancouver on the board and one late in the third period with the goalie pulled as time was winding down. But, for the most part, Minnesota’s penalty kill didn’t look totally helpless like it did against the Bruins last week. It certainly wasn’t a perfect night for the PK, but it was vaguely encouraging.
Perhaps the big story of the night, though, was Zach Parise’s 20th goal of the season. On the eve of his 1,000th NHL game, Parise netted the 381st goal of his career. This marks the 10th time in Parise’s career that he’s scored at least 20 goals in a single season.
He may not always get the respect he deserves (mainly due to his immovable contract), but Parise has without a doubt been one of the best goal scorers of the last decade or so. He was born to find the back of the net.
Unsurprisingly, Kevin Fiala also left his mark on this game. After perhaps his best performance as a member of the Wild on Tuesday, Fiala came right back with a head of steam and scored Minnesota’s third goal of the night late in the first period. After a slick toe drag, Fiala wristed a laser right past Jacob Markstrom to extend the Wild lead. His goal wound up being the game-winner — his second with Minnesota.
Brad Hunt and Ryan Hartman also netted goals of their own. Hunt broke the ice just six minutes into the contest, and Hartman added the game’s second tally around the first period’s midway point. It’s been over a month since Hunt’s last goal, so it was good to see him get back on the board. He now leads all Wild defensemen in goals with eight on the season. Not too shabby.
Believe it or not, the Wild are still hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race. They’re just four points behind the Calgary Flames for the second wild card spot, so even though it feels like the sky is falling at times, this team is at the very least making things interesting.
The Wild will be right back in action Friday night against the Dallas Stars in Texas. Minnesota handed Dallas an embarrassing 7-0 thumping in St. Paul last month, so perhaps the Wild will be able to build off that and keep the winning streak alive. Or maybe the Stars will simply return the favor?
Yeah, that would be extremely characteristic of this Wild team.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Can the Wild cool off J.T. Miller?
Not quite. Miller scored Vancouver’s first goal of the game during a power play in the second period. Still, the Wild ended up getting the win, so that goal wound up being pretty insignificant.
2. Will the Wild penalty kill stay strong?
For the most part, yes. Minnesota entered the game against Vancouver with the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL. While Miller did end up finding twine on the man advantage, the Wild did do a pretty good job of making things difficult for the Canucks power play (though it’s fair to wonder how Pettersson’s presence would have changed things).
3. How Will Matt Dumba Respond?
It was a pretty uneventful night for Matt Dumba. He didn’t register any points, but, for what it’s worth, he did finish the game with a plus-2 rating. It would’ve been cool to see the floodgates open for Dumba, but knowing him, he’d rather have the win than another goal.
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