Head coach Bruce Boudreau couldn’t stand pat as his Minnesota Wild squad looked listless through the first two games of the season. Slow starts in both games, an absence of goal scoring, and a lot of hand-wringing about the highest paid players on the team not showing up made for a tenuous start to the season. In come the line changes. Boudreau and company put Joel Eriksson Ek with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker. Mikko Koivu centered a line of Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund. Charlie Coyle got a bump from Nino Niederreiter on his line with rookie center Jordan Greenway.
The Wild’s lines were tweaked again in game and it sparked a comeback win in overtime to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 on home ice.
Minnesota made a conscious effort to get pucks to the net early with more traffic to the net. However, the Wild were forcing things, trying to do too much. “To be honest, I think our first 10 minutes were pretty sloppy,” Ryan Suter said post-game on Fox Sports North. There were odd-man rushes given up to the Blackhawks line that featured Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat more than once in the first period. Ryan Suter got beat up the ice and left Matt Dumba to play the 2-on-1 alone against Toews and DeBrincat. Dumba tried to step up on Toews, but whiffed and was guilty of holding 19. But the Chicago top center fought through the check, picked his head up and found DeBrincat coming down the left side for the first goal of the game.
Almost three minutes later, a defensive breakdown allowed Dominik Kahun to score his first goal of his career. Toews one-touched a loose puck in the slot on the backhand to the right circle that required perfect placement by Kahun to find space over Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.
“They knew after the first period that they weren’t right,” Boudreau stated about the first period sluggishness.
The Wild goaltender, whose performance has been the lone bright spot to start the season, had to be good to just get though the first period with a 2-goal deficit. He made 27 saves on 30 shots while making a spectacular save on 88 late in the game.
The Wild and the Xcel Energy Center needed some life. More sloppiness was ever prevalent in the Wild’s game. Mikael Granlund fought the puck all night long. He had a step on the Blackhawks defenseman to cut to the middle and swept a shot wide of Cam Ward and the Chicago net.
One player that was playing fast, and creating chances was Jason Zucker. After receiving a good chunk of change this offseason, he was cognizant of the fact that he, among other leaders on the team, needed to step up in a big way. Zucker and Eric Staal just missed in the first period on a chance with Ward out of position and half the net to shoot at. So in the second period, Boudreau juggled his lines again and that pair got a chance to reconnect and try again.
Jordan Greenway was swapped with Eriksson Ek to help get Greenway back to the wing. “We though he was thinking too much at center...it was almost like, ‘what a weight off my shoulders,’” Broudreau said about the change. “When he played well in the playoffs, he just played.”
Ryan Suter made a nice play at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone which caught the Blackhawks in transition. The puck found an area for Zucker to skate into and around the defenseman. On the other side, Staal bulldozed Jan Rutta on his way to the net. All that was needed was a good pass and this time the Wild’s reigning goal scoring from last season put the puck in the net. Minnesota could have been content with going into the second intermission down by a goal, but Zucker wasn’t.
Greenway, having been promoted to the top line with Zucker and Staal, made a good pass from behind the net to get Staal the puck in the left circle. Staal passed into the slot where Zucker received the puck on his backhand, then let go a forehand wrister that beat Ward over the blocker with three seconds left in the period.
“When Zuck is moving his legs like that he’s an elite player,” Boudreau said about his speedy winger.
Eric Fehr’s tripping minor to start the third derailed what was an otherwise good start of the period. DeBrincat didn’t waste much time on the ensuing power play to make the Wild pay. Patrick Kane found DeBrincat in the high slot and put the puck on a tee for the sophomore forward. The Wild finished 4-for-5 on the penalty kill. For the power play, they squandered a late power play with a chance to tie the game with about six minutes left in the game. The power play was 0-for-2 on the night.
With Dubnyk pulled for the extra attacker, and the puck in the Blackhawks’ end, Ryan Suter stepped up along the half-wall in an attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Instead, he over-skated the puck and the play went towards the empty net of Minnesota. Mikael Granlund hauled down David Kampf to thwart the scoring chance with the empty net, but took a penalty in the process.
That should have been the end.
As the Wild re-gained possession in the Chicago zone, Dubnyk was pulled to create a 5-on-5 situation. Staal got absolutely robbed by Ward, but he stayed with the puck as it was directed behind the net. Staal pushed the puck around the net to Zach Parise, whose shot was blocked. In comes Ryan Suter from out of nowhere to back hand the loose puck into the net with 23 seconds left on the clock to tie the game.
Michael Russo of The Athletic asked Boudreau if Granlund “saved the game” by taking the penalty to keep from Chicago scoring in the empty net.
Boudreau aptly responded, “Ok,” and moved onto the next question.
But he really kind of did, even if he made tying the game a bit more difficult by placing his squad on the PK.
The Wild started the overtime period short-handed. Dubnyk made some magnificent saves to keep his team in the game. Cam Ward, on the other end, was exchanging some tough saves of his own. But after a few moments of structure in OT, the odd-man rushes mounted. First Dubnyk had to stop Kane. Then Ward stopped Jason Zucker on a 2-on-1 chance.
As Brandon Saad brought the puck back up the ice, Suter made a very good poke-check to knock the puck away from the Blackhawk forward. Suter then made a quick pass up the boards to Parise, who played cut-off man and made the long lead pass up to Zucker. Zucker broke into the zone with speed on a breakaway and slid the puck five hole for a badly needed Wild win.
The Wild are now 1-1-1 on the season with the Carolina Hurricanes coming to town on Saturday. A win Thursday night was badly needed for this team. However, there is still a lot to work on to continue the winning.