This game was more about the Wild finding their new identity having just jettisoned three players of their core before the NHL Trade Deadline. No more Nino Niederreiter. No more Charlie Coyle. No more Mikael Granlund. No, it was about the youth movement as the Wild headed north to face division rival Winnipeg. This was about seeing Ryan Donato continue his point streak with Minnesota. It was our first look at Kevin Fiala in a green Wild number 22 jersey. It was Luke Kunin at center for the first time in Minnesota. These kids were supposed to provide speed and skill into the line-up, and speed was definitely noticeable.
What would become a harbinger or omen for the type of pace this game brought, Jason Zucker hit the post just barely 20 seconds into the game. The pace was fast; frenzied with chances at both ends. Ultimately it was the Wild surrendering the first goal of the game as they are wont to do, especially on the penalty kill. Just before Greg Pateryn was called for high sticking, Zucker took a stick up high that was missed. Instead, it allowed Mark Scheifele to break the ice. Devan Dubnyk didn’t make the best of plays in an attempt to block the shot.
That said, Dubnyk ended with 30 saves on 32 shots in the game, including a strong 3rd period to keep the Wild close. He stopped all nine shots in the third, and had to face two power plays book-ending the period.
The second period started with the same pace from the first period, but the physicality level was raised. Connor Hellebuyck certainly gave his team a chance to win, but he was there for the taking. The puck just didn’t seem to stick to Hellebuyck like he showed in the post-season last year. Greg Pateryn drew a penalty from Patrik Laine midway through the period that gave Minnesota their first chance on the new look power play.
The first unit was Zach Parise, Kunin, Fiala, Pontus Aberg, and Ryan Suter. Fiala, who arrived Tuesday in Winnipeg and didn’t get a chance to practice got his first chance on the power play. Let’s just say he didn’t look totally out of place. In fact, it was Pontus Aberg that struggled on the night. To start that power play, he was crushed along the boards just inside the Jets’ blue line that triggered a 4-on-1 break the other way. Suter made a sliding block to keep the Jets from scoring. With the second PP unit on the ice - Zucker, Eric Staal, Donato, Jared Spurgeon, and Brad Hunt - it was Donato from the half wall, formerly occupied by Granlund, running the power play. Donato passed the puck back to Hunt at the point, and Hunt drifted to his left with the puck. He let go a wrist shot that found twine over the glove with all kinds of bodies in front. Staal was setting the screen, and there was no way Hellebuyck could see the shot coming in.
All tied up, but it wasn’t for long. Fourteen seconds after Hunt tied the game, Ben Chiarot walked on Marcus Foligno and fired a shot from the right offensive circle. The puck deflected off of Laine’s shin pad out front, and the Jets quickly had their one goal lead back.
Minnesota needed a good start to the third period. The good start was delayed when Jordan Greenway took an interference penalty just 22 seconds in. Dubnyk and the Wild leaky PK killed it off, and the Wild went to work. Most chances came in the one-and-done variety. J.T. Brown chased down a loose puck in the neutral zone only to have his breakaway chance stopped by the Jets goaltender. As time wore on the Wild became more and more desperate. Staal tried to send a pass through the slot in the vicinity of Zucker, but Myers gave him a shot in the back for a cross-checking penalty.
Bruce Boudreau elected to pull the netminder for the extra attacker. Donato found Zucker in the high slot with some room and the puck found the back of the net for the game-tying goal. It was his second goal in as many games. It was also Donato’s second assist of the game, making it a total of six points in four games since joining the Wild for the youngster.
With time ticking down, the Joel Eriksson Ek line with Donato and Aberg continued to push the puck around the Jets’ zone. Jonas Brodin, who was pinching in, sent the puck to the blue paint. Hellebuyck made the initial save, but Eriksson Ek was there on the doorstep to hammer the puck in. Eriksson Ek swept the puck under the arm of Hellebuyck and he dived across the crease, and into his own net, but couldn’t keep the puck out. It was 26 second after the Wild tied the game.
Minnesota completely turned the tables on Winnipeg, but now had to hold to the one goal lead. Almost the identical situation presented itself to the Jets when Parise got called for tripping at 19:20. Paul Maurice pulled the goalie for the extra attacker, but the Wild defense was stellar in protecting Dubnyk. Minnesota secured their 4th straight victory by stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.
Ryan Donato had two assists and played 13 and a half minutes. Luke Kunin played 20 minutes, was 53 percent in the dot, and added a shot on goal. Fiala looked good in his first game with the Wild having just stepped into a new locker room, not knowing any of the systems, and we saw some creativity while he added three shots over 17 minutes of ice time in his debut.
The Wild were 2-for-2 on the power play, and killed 3-of-4 penalties. Minnesota led in the shots on goal department 40 to 32.
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