ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nate Prosser spent much of the first half of this season watching games from the press box. Such is the life of a seventh defenseman in the NHL.
But an injury to Jared Spurgeon has put Prosser in the spotlight, and the Elk River, Minn., native has responded. Prosser's first goal in almost two years broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period Thursday and the Minnesota Wild overcame some early sloppiness to beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 at Xcel Energy Center.
Prosser's goal came at the perfect time. A Jordan Eberle goal early in the second period tied the game for Edmonton, and after that, the Oilers controlled the puck and the momentum. But the Wild remained structured enough in the defensive zone to keep the puck out of their net, buying Prosser and the offense enough time to get the lead.
"He's an unbelievable professional," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Prosser. "He's an unbelievable team guy and it wasn't easy to scratch him. He's a guy that has made the absolute most of his opportunity."
After the Wild generated their first sustained pressure of the middle period, Prosser's blast from the right half-wall got through Oilers' goaltender Ben Scrivens' glove for his first goal since Feb. 7, 2012 - a stretch of 68 games.
"They had us hemmed in there in the second but we didn't give them a whole lot," Prosser said. "We know that our play wasn't up to par there in the second and we weren't executing the way we should."
The goal was the first of three in a span of 3:22 over the second and third periods for Minnesota, turning a close game into a knockout.
"We kept our composure, which I think we lost a little bit last game," Wild forward Jason Pominville said, referring to a 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, a game that was 1-0 early in the third period.
With just over a minute left in the second, the Wild made it 3-1 when Justin Fontaine cleaned up a Kyle Brodziak rebound in the crease. Fontaine's 12 goals are already the third-best total for a rookie in franchise history.
"It was disheartening," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said of the Wild's late goals in the second period. "Near the end of the period, I thought it was an even game right up until that point. It was an even game, and now you're down by two … you start chasing the game again."
Eight seconds into the third, it was 4-1, as Jason Zucker and Dany Heatley played catch into the Oilers zone. Heatley's last pass provided Zucker - who turned 22 on Thursday - with an open net for his fourth of the season. The goal was the fastest in team history to start a period in a home game.
"Great pass by Heater," Zucker said. "At first, it seemed like we lost that faceoff and Charlie [Coyle] made a great play to dig that out and get a win for us. That was huge. Winning that faceoff set up that whole play."
The Wild went ahead 1-0 just over 10 minutes into the game thanks to a great individual effort by Mikael Granlund, who raced in to negate an icing and then won a puck battle behind the net before passing to Pominville in front. Pominville switched from his forehand to his backhand, getting Scrivens to sprawl in the process, before flipping the puck into an open net for his team-leading 19th goal of the season. It snapped a six-game goal drought for Pominville, his longest of the season.
"I gave him a yell and he just knew where I was," Pominville said. "He flipped to the area and I had a lot of time."
Eberle tied the game early in the second, capitalizing on a Wild turnover. After a failed pinch by Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, Eberle led a 2-on-1 rush, waiting out defenseman Keith Ballard and drove to the slot, where he fired a wrister over the glove of Darcy Kuemper at 2:36 for his 15th of the season.
Scrivens, starting his first game for Edmonton after being traded from the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, made 29 saves.
"I gotta find a way to make another save or two for the guys here, give them a little bit more of a chance," Scrivens said. "The biggest thing we can take out of this game is, we did so many good things in our own zone. Just a couple of mistakes, seemed innocuous at the time, those are the ones that end up in your net."
Kuemper, making his third consecutive start, stopped 20 shots for his third win of the season.
Perhaps of more concern to the Oilers, forward Nail Yakupov suffered a head injury late in the second period. After being knocked off the puck at his offensive blue line by Wild forward Matt Cooke, Yakupov hit the ice hard and slid awkwardly into the boards near the Oilers bench. Yakupov, who was ruled out for the game at the start of the third period, was slow to get up and Fontaine scored on the ensuing rush.
The team did not have an update on Yakupov's injury or his status for the Oilers' next game Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.
|Jason Pominville (19) ASST: Mikael Granlund (17), Marco Scandella (11)|
1 - 0 MIN
|Jordan Eberle (15) ASST: NONE|
1 - 1 Tie
|Nate Prosser (1) ASST: Jason Pominville (14)|
2 - 1 MIN
|Justin Fontaine (12) ASST: Kyle Brodziak (11), Matt Cooke (14)|
3 - 1 MIN
|Jason Zucker (4) ASST: Dany Heatley (9), Charlie Coyle (11)|
4 - 1 MIN
|Anton Belov Interference against Jason Pominville|
|Matt Cooke Interference on goalkeeper against Ben Scrivens|
|Kyle Brodziak Hooking against David Perron|
|David Perron Holding against Kyle Brodziak|
|Ryan Jones Fighting (maj) against Stephane Veilleux|
|Stephane Veilleux Fighting (maj) against Ryan Jones|
|Erik Haula Hooking against David Perron|
|David Perron Holding against Charlie Coyle|
|Kyle Brodziak Hooking against Taylor Hall|
|Martin Marincin Tripping against Erik Haula|
|Erik Haula Hi-sticking against Martin Marincin|