Christmas is over. Did you get that Jared Spurgeon jersey you’ve been asking for? A new twig, because you broke your old one trying to pull off Tiger Williams’ classic “riding the stick” celebration? Maybe you got a Nintendo Switch? Or perhaps you’ve been an awful human being this year and didn’t get a single thing from anyone.
Regardless of the circumstances, we all got a gift Friday night — the return of hockey after the three-day holiday break. Longest, most boring three days in recent memory.
The return of hockey after the brief hiatus also marked the return of Minnesota Wild! They, along with 21 other teams, were nice and rested after the holiday break. But despite traveling to the high altitudes of Denver, the Wild showed no rust and managed to put together one of their more exciting performances of the season against the Colorado Avalanche.
Minnesota came out firing on all cylinders early. At the 14:27 mark of the opening stanza, rookie defenseman Carson Soucy scored his fifth goal of the season to break the ice, thanks largely to a perfect screen by Nico Sturm (and Sam Girard).
Just a few minutes later, Zach Parise hit Kevin Fiala with a nice feed to set him up for a one-timer on the rush. Colorado netminder Pavel Francouz appeared to make the initial stop, but the puck trickled past him, and a scavenging Eric Staal buried the loose puck into the net to double the Minnesota lead.
Being that the Wild were facing the Avalanche, you knew Colorado wouldn’t make things this easy for Minnesota. After a slow start to the first frame, the Avs scored two goals in just 46 seconds late in the period to tie the game 2-2. Matt Calvert netted the first goal off a redirection, but Gabriel Landeskog’s follow-up just seconds later wound up being one of the highlights of the night.
With time dying down in the period, Landeskog found some open ice in the neutral zone, wound himself up like the Energizer Bunny and cut right through Soucy and Jonas Brodin — arguably Minnesota’s best D pairing — to tie the game with the must-see score. Just a fantastic individual effort by Landeskog.
The back-and-forth scoring continued in the middle frame. After what appeared to be a pretty snipe by Joel Eriksson Ek for his fourth goal of the season, Colorado challenged the play for being offside. As luck would have it, the goal was called back and the game remained tied 2-2.
That is, until defenseman Brad Hunt stepped up to reclaim the lead.
Forward Jordan Greenway didn’t get an assist on Hunt’s tally, but he certainly deserves credit for taking away Francouz’s eyes, allowing Hunt’s slapper to find twine cleanly.
It was only a matter of time before the great Nathan MacKinnon made an impact on the game, though. With just 47.7 seconds left in the middle third, MacKinnon redirect a Cale Makar feed past Devan Dubnyk to tie the game once again.
Two periods, two last-minute goals by Colorado to even things up.
And things weren’t looking so great for Minnesota to start the third period, either. Just 1:33 into the final frame, Matt Calvert netted his second of the night to give Colorado its first lead of the game.
Thankfully, Mats Zuccarello stepped up around the period’s halfway point to get the Wild back on the board. And his goal was a subtle beauty. After Jonas Brodin forced a rebound off of Francouz’s pad, Zuccarello redirected the loose puck off of his skate, onto his stick and into the net to knot things up yet again.
They don’t call him Lizard for nothing, folks.
Then, just 1:17 later, Victor Rask (!) scored his fourth goal of the season to give the Wild another lead. He may not have the best reputation in Minnesota, but his perfectly placed wrister was quite impressive. Big goal in a big moment for Rask.
Colorado wasn’t letting up, though. The Avs generated a few nice looks late in the game that nearly resulted in goals, but Devan Dubnyk stepped up and made some key stops late to keep Minnesota in the driver’s seat.
Eventually, Ryan Suter buried the empty-netter off a clean faceoff win from Eriksson Ek in the neutral zone to seal the deal.
Six goals, six different scorers for Minnesota. Big, big 6-4 win for the Wild.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Will Luke Kunin continue his hot play of late?
Luke Kunin didn’t exactly dominate against Colorado, but he certainly didn’t play poorly. He registered a secondary assist on Brad Hunt’s goal in the second period and finished the night with a plus-1 rating. Definitely not a bad performance for the 22-year-old.
2. Cale Makar is slated for return tonight — can the Wild keep the rookie off the scoresheet?
No, but they did improve drastically compared to their last meeting with Colorado. Back in November, Makar scored two goals in a 3-2 win for the Wild. Friday night, he picked up just one assist and was on the ice for four goals against. Improvement!
3. How will the man between the pipes do?
Devan Dubnyk, despite giving up four goals in the win, was very, very good against Colorado. He turned aside 40 of the Avs’ 44 shots and made a number of dandies. Colorado went 0-for-3 on the power play, and Dubnyk certainly had a big role in keeping them from scoring with the extra attacker. He was locked in Friday night, and it was a well-deserved win for the veteran netminder.
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