ST. PAUL — One game after giving up the tying goal in the final minute of the third period in an eventual shootout loss to Vegas, the Wild flipped the script on Thursday night in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild, playing shorthanded but with goaltender Devan Dubnyk pulled, got a goal from Ryan Suter at 19 minutes, 37 seconds of the third to tie the score and then win it on Jason Zucker’s second goal of the game at 3:25 of overtime.
It’s difficult to get too excited about a victory, or a loss for that matter, only three games into a season, but after the Wild had put together two largely apathetic performances in losing to Colorado and Vegas, getting two points against a Central Division rival obviously felt good.
“If this is how the year is going to be, I won’t have any hair at the end of it,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau joked. “I hope (this game) was a determination that they just didn’t want to lose. They knew after the first period that, even though they played a good last five minutes of the first period, they weren’t right there. (They were) dipping their toe in the water again and letting the other team determine how the game was being played. Then when we get down, like in the third periods of the previous two games, we started playing a lot better.”
Here are three thoughts from the Wild’s first victory of the season.
Suter’s best game
Suter earned the second assist on the Wild’s first goal — that cut the Blackhawks lead to 2-1 — in the second period and then scored the tying goal from in front and had another second assist on the overtime winner.
Asked if it was the veteran defenseman’s best game so far, Broudeau didn’t hesitate. “By far,” he said, before adding, “I don’t want to say by far because then he’ll get mad at me. But it was his best game.”
Suter, who led all skaters by logging 26:37 of ice time, is returning from a broken right fibula that limited his activity during the offseason. He did not get into a game until the Wild’s second-to-last preseason game.
Suter appeared to be more aggressive than usual on Thursday, driving to the front of the net. “I think on all three of our goals (in regulation) I was down pretty close to the top of the crease,” he said. “It was late in the period on the one, the other one it was kind of a broken play and then the last one (was) desperation. Just trying to get to the net and try to help out a little bit.”
It was the 11th career three-point game for Suter. He now has 496 career points in 994 career games. Suter will become only the 50th NHL defenseman all-time to reach the 500-point milestone and play in 1,000 games.
Zucker follows through
Zucker said after the loss to Vegas that the Wild’s top players needed to start doing more. That turned out to be more than lip service as the speedy winger scored his first two goals of the season, added an assist, had a game-high 10 shots on goal and was a plus-4. Zucker’s shots on goal represented a career high.
“Zuck was great,” Boudreau said. “When he’s moving his legs like that, he’s an elite player.”
Zucker set up center Eric Staal on a goal at 13:19 of the second period and then scored off a Staal assist at 19:57 of the second to tie the score at 2-2.
“A lot of guys played really well tonight,” Zucker said. “I don’t think it’s the greatest start we’ve had, but it was great for us to comeback. It showed a lot from our older guys, our leadership here, to get that goal at the end.”
Greenway on the move
Jordan Greenway opened the season playing center and began Wednesday night at that spot between Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. But in the second period Boudreau moved Greenway to the right wing with Staal and Zucker and switched Joel Eriksson Ek from the wing on that line to the center spot with Niederreiter and Coyle.
Greenway got his first point with a secondary assist on Zucker’s first goal, and Boudreau liked what he saw from the 6-foot-6, 227-pound rookie.
“We thought he was thinking too much at center,” Boudreau said. “When he played in the playoffs last year, he just played wing and played. (After the move to wing), it was almost like, ‘What a weight off my shoulders, I don’t have to play down low.’
“Like the second goal (by Chicago), he lost the draw, he’s worried about faceoffs, and was all over the place a little bit. Ek is a natural centerman and I thought he was looking good in the first period on that line with the forechecking and that. But I wanted him back in the middle.”