It’s been blasted time and again this season: The Minnesota Wild (32-20-7) are a good home team and bad road team.
They flipped that script with a 5-3 matinee road victory against the New York Islanders on Monday, led by forward Jason Zucker’s two goals.
After losing an 11-round shootout at home, the Wild needed a bounce-back effort to get two points as they started their New York road trip. Mission accomplished. The Wild improved to 12-15-1 on the road.
“We want to make sure we’re a better road team,” Zucker said. “It’s a huge win for us.”
The Wild got the scoring started from a long-overdue source: Joel Eriksson Ek. He scored just his second goal of the season at the 7:02 mark of the opening frame for a 1-0 Wild lead. It snapped a 140:18 shutout streak for the Islanders (29-26-6), spanning four games.
On the play, Tyler Ennis had just missed a backhanded opportunity in front of the net after a bad Islanders turnover, but Charlie Coyle got the puck behind the net and fed a waiting Eriksson Ek who scored from the crease.
For those who haven’t heard, it was Eriksson Ek’s first goal since he scored in the season opener in Detroit, a span of 51 games for him. Coach Bruce Boudreau has continued to praise the youngster for his solid play in recent weeks.
“Well, I think he was just the happiest man in the country right there,” Boudreau said. “That was really good. For him to get that goal was really special, I think.”
The rest of the first period wasn’t the best hockey from the Wild, as they got a bit sloppy. It caught up to them with 45 seconds left in the period when Ross Johnston got the Islanders on the board to tie the game before the first intermission.
The second period was the shining moment for the Wild, as they scored three straight goals in a span of four minutes, 12 seconds to take a 4-2 lead. This came after Edina’s Anders Lee tallied his 30th goal of the season just 1:57 into the period with a stick deflection.
It was the third and fourth lines that carried the Wild, especially in the second, according to Boudreau.
“I thought we were in the game the whole time,” Boudreau said. “The one goal down didn’t get us down.”
First, Ryan Suter sent a long stretch pass from the circles in the Wild zone out to a streaking Matt Cullen. The Moorhead Spud finished off the play with a pretty backhanded shot for his sixth of the season to tie the game at two apiece.
The Wild had a 2-on-0 opportunity while the Islanders conducted a poor line change. Zucker scored his first of the game with an absolute snipe shot over the goaltender’s shoulder, again on a feed from Suter.
Tyler Ennis, who had a couple solid scoring chances earlier in the game, finally cashed in for his eighth of the season at 14:06 of the second period. The Islanders pulled within one later in the period on the first NHL goal for Tanner Fritz. The Wild led 4-3 after 40 minutes.
One of the only good bits of the third period for the Wild came on Zucker’s second goal of the afternoon to make it a 5-3 game with 3:22 to play. From behind the net, Eric Staal found a waiting Zucker in the slot to blast the important insurance goal home. Zucker continues his career-high season in goals with 25 of them.
Other than the Zucker goal, the Wild chased around their own zone for much of the final 20 minutes, taking three (and it could have been four) minor penalties against an Islanders team that’s scored 74 goals in the third period this season.
Fortunately for the Wild, they hung on in the final couple minutes having to kill the second Zach Parise minor and contend with an empty net at the other end.
“I think in the last couple games, we have to play with that one-goal lead in the third period and learn how to do it so we don’t blow leads all the time in the third period,” Boudreau said.
Devan Dubynk (24-11-5) with 32 saves on 35 shots. Jaroslav Halak (18-19-4) with 27 saves on 32 shots.
- The Wild’s penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4. They went 0-for-1 on their power play.
- Nino Niederreiter and Coyle led the team in shots on goal with five each.
- Five Wild players had multi-point games: Cullen, Zucker, Ennis, Suter and Matt Dumba.
- Staal earned his 27th assist on Zucker’s second goal, giving Staal 899 career points.
The Wild visit Parise’s old neighborhood to play the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.