The Minnesota Wild tamed the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night in an impressive showing in St. Paul.
If there was any stretch of games that accurately reflected how the Minnesota Wild has played this season, it would be the last ten.
The Wild appeared to find their groove against Nashville at home last Friday, but then were shut out following the back end of a back-to-back in Nashville. They finished the stretch a very pedestrian 5-5, and found themselves hopscotching between the second wild-card spot or just outside of it.
But on Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild kicked off the unofficial second half of the season by playing arguably one of its most complete games all season.
Maybe Zach Parise’s presence is a good luck charm, or maybe the Panthers had a hard time adjusting to the below-zero temperature. Whatever the case, coaches and staff should be satisfied with the 5-1 win.
The Wild were an offensive force
The latter parts of the first period set up the Wild for complete domination during the second. After starting somewhat slowly, a falling Matt Cullen tapped home a rebound off a Jared Spurgeon point shot. The Wild refused to look back, and ended the period outshooting the Panthers 13-9 as all four lines found their groove.
In the second, the Wild literally skated circles around the stationary Panthers and, boy, did they make them pay for it. Cullen scored his second of the game 1:56 into the period off a tip from Gustav Olofsson. Cullen, who has struggled for the majority of the season, played one of his most complete games as did the entire fourth line.
The Wild did not let up: Eric Staal added his 16th of the season off a rebound from a Spurgeon shot, and his 17th on a nifty feed from Tyler Ennis. Ennis is another player finding confidence in his game, as he finished with two assists and four shots, playing on the first line with Staal and Jason Zucker.
Spurgeon later added his third assist of the game on Charlie Coyle’s empty net goal. The Panthers struggled mightily to get the puck out of their end, and ended the second period with only 2 shots, in comparison to the Wild’s 19.
Other notable performances from Wild players: Joel Eriksson-Ek looked hungry and tenacious, playing on a line with Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, and finished the game with 5 shots. Eriksson-Ek played his second season high in ice time at 17:26.
Zucker played similarly, and came awfully close to popping a goal or two as he also finished the game with 5 shots while adding an assist.
Sound and sturdy play in the defensive end
It’s not often a team is held to 11 shots through two periods. That’s exactly what the Wild did as they locked up the Panthers. Despite the limited amount of shots Devan Dubnyk and the Wild defensemen faced, there were some very quality chances generated by the Panthers.
In particular, a diving save made on Evgeny Dadonov.
Dubnyk demonstrated great poise and patience, robbing what should have been a sure goal. He was great when he needed to be, more so in the third period when the Panthers turned up their game, generating 15 shots and a goal from Jonathan Huberdeau.
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Parise looked like his old self
Zach Parise made his long awaited season debut following offseason back surgery, and brought the same energy and passion he always plays with. Parise, playing on the third line with Coyle and Chris Stewart to ease into things, finished the game with three shots and wasn’t afraid to drive to the front of the net and embrace contact. There’s no doubt the Wild coaching staff and his Wild teammates are ecstatic to see Parise playing again and it should be no time before he finds himself on the score sheet.
The Wild are right back at it on Thursday night. The Buffalo Sabres visit the Xcel Energy Center at 7:00 that night.