ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Wild spent the first five games of the season looking slow, old, disinterested and in jeopardy of being very easy to ignore. The Wild had one win in that time and was sitting on four points only because goalie Devan Dubnyk was literally saving them on a nightly basis.
An extremely negative column was written about the Wild’s poor start following a 5-4 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes two weeks ago at Xcel Energy Center and two days later the Wild’s woes continued with a 4-2 defeat in Nashville. Nearly every team the Wild played seemed to have superior speed and considering the importance of that asset in today’s game it appeared to be a potential death knell.
But there was one very important thing forgotten in trying to dismiss this team before it had basically gotten started: This is the Wild and, during the regular season at least, they are going to do their best to do the unexpected.
Get your hopes up, and they will disappoint you. Give up on them, and they will rally like no other.
Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that the Wild’s 3-2 victory over division-rival Colorado on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center extended their winning streak to five games. The Avalanche entered Saturday tied with Nashville for first place in the extremely competitive Central Division.
The Wild is now 6-2-2 with 14 points, putting them two points behind Colorado and Nashville, a point behind the Winnipeg Jets and tied with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think (the winning streak) is critical because other than tonight no teams in the Central usually lose,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “(Saturday) was one of those rare nights where we actually pick up ground on teams.”
In addition to the Wild beating Colorado, Edmonton beat Nashville, Toronto beat Winnipeg and St. Louis beat Chicago in a divisional matchup.
Led by one of the NHL’s best lines in Nathan Mackinnon between Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, the speedy Avalanche are the exact type of team that appeared capable of giving the Wild major problems only a few weeks back. That was the case when Colorado opened the regular season with a 4-1 victory over the visiting Wild on Oct. 4.
But after the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead in the first period Saturday on a goal by defenseman Mark Barberio, the Wild rallied to tie it in the second period on a Mikael Granlund shot that beat Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov from a sharp angle 2 seconds after a penalty on Colorado expired. Eric Staal broke the tie in the third period by burying a shot from the slot off a nice pass from Granlund on the power play.
The Wild took a two-goal lead on Jonas Brodin’s clear from his own end that found an empty net with Colorado already on the power play. The Avs, who beat Ottawa on Friday night in Colorado, scored with 41.1 seconds left in the third period on Landeskog’s goal but the Wild were able to hold on.
Boudreau credited with the defensive pairing of Jared Spurgeon and Brodin with doing an excellent job against the Mackinnon line. The Wild also finished with the advantage in special-teams play, getting a power-play goal on five opportunities and killing off all six of the Avs’ power-play chances.
“I was really happy after the first period,” Boudreau said. “I thought that we played a really good team and they might have been a little tired but we didn’t give them a lot, which is really good.”
The Wild’s success on home ice is nothing new. They are the only team in the league without a regulation loss at home this season and are now 23-3-8 (including playoffs) at Xcel Energy Center since last Christmas.
So have the Wild turned a corner? It has to be encouraging to general manager Paul Fenton and Boudreau to see guys like Granlund and Charlie Coyle (back at center) playing better and to see the fourth-line of Eric Fehr, Marcus Foligno and J.T. Brown generating chances. Put these things together with Dunbyk continuing to be one of the NHL’s top goalies early in the season and things look far better than they did a couple of weeks ago.
But the Wild is about to get a major test beginning on Monday night as they begin a seven-game trip that will include stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, St. Louis, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim before a return trip to St. Louis.
“It depends on how you look at it,” Boudreau said when asked about the difficulty of this trip. “We dissect it in that after two games we come home. Then we go to St. Louis and come home and then we have a four-game road trip. So we’re looking at it as a two-game road trip, and hopefully that makes it not as daunting as, ‘Oh man, seven games in seven tough buildings.'”