The Wild received contributions from up and down their lineup, including two goals from their fourth line, in a 4-0 win that was played in front of 19,409 fans, the most to ever watch a Wild game at Xcel Energy Center.
Erik Haula scored less than two minutes into the game, the first of three first-period goals. Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves for his second shutout with the Wild; he improved to 5-0-3 with Minnesota since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers the day before the NHL Trade Deadline.
The victory moved Minnesota (40-26-12) six points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference's wild-card race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and maintained its five-point lead on the Dallas Stars for the top wild-card spot.
"I think not only the good lead in the first period, the whole game the team was playing unbelievable. They did a tremendous job, they limit their best players' time and space and it helps a lot," Bryzgalov said. "I'm just trying to enjoy the hockey and help the team and help the guys like they helping me to get these points and help to win the games."
With the Boston Bruins' 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers earlier Saturday locking Pittsburgh (49-24-5) into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins looked like a team that didn't have much to play for.
"We didn't play well," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "That being said, there were some bounces early on and we seemed to get some chances to get within a couple and didn't score. We didn't get a lot of momentum after that. We had some chances to score in the second and didn't and the third period was pretty passive by both teams."
The Penguins sustained perhaps their best pressure of the night in the opening minute of regulation, but the pressure yielded two shots.
The first time the Wild broke out of their defensive zone, they scored. Matt Moulson took a pass from Jason Pominville in the neutral zone and fluttered a pass behind Pittsburgh defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Haula won a race to the puck in front of Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff and chipped it into the net for his fifth of the season at 1:48.
"I knew it was going to be important to get off to a good start in this game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We talked about [it], it's not real difficult, but getting out to a good start kind of establishes the game that we need to play and then just the willingness to stick with it all game.
To me, the two challenges were how we were going to start this game and then [when] you get up, how [do] you stay with it? That was maybe the bigger challenge."
For Haula, a fourth-liner much of the season who has slotted up to the second line the past two games in the absence of Mikael Granlund, it was his second straight game with a goal.
"I'm playing with two great players and they definitely help. [I'm] just trying to do everything I can to fill in that role and right now I've gotten some bounces and got a couple goals, so it's nice," Haula said. "It's rewarding. Hopefully [Granlund] comes back as soon as possible. I think he helps our team significantly."
Seven minutes later, the Wild's top line made it 2-0 when Mikko Koivu snapped a shot from the slot through a Zach Parise screen in front for his 11th of the season at 8:47. Parise was credited with the first assist on the goal, his 500th NHL point.
Minnesota made it 3-0 later in the period when an aggressive forecheck by its fourth line yielded a turnover, which was turned into Stephane Veilleux's third goal of the season. Cody McCormick forced a Paul Martin turnover along the left half-wall and passed to Veilleux in front, who backhanded a soft shot that deflected in off Zatkoff's glove at 14:56.
McCormick was rewarded for his work 6:24 into the second period, when he one-timed a pass from Parise for his second of the season and first with the Wild. Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres along with Moulson at the deadline, McCormick was playing in his first game at center after nine games at right wing. He had been a healthy scratch in three straight games prior to Saturday.
"When you're sitting out, you're making sure you're doing what you can to get back in the lineup and contribute. You don't pout, you know the opportunity will come and you just have to make sure you're ready for it."
Pittsburgh's best scoring chance came 2:15 into the second when Brandon Sutter found James Neal alone in front with Bryzgalov out of position. Neal tried to backhand the puck into the net as he was falling down, but Bryzgalov dove to get a piece of it with the paddle of his stick.
Zatkoff allowed goals on three of the first five shots he faced. He finished with 17 saves.
"A couple bad goals by me [takes] the life out of us. That's the difference," Zatkoff said.
"They got three goals on six shots in the first period and got out to that lead. We were certainly from behind in this game and couldn't generate a lot going the other way," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think at the end there's 20 shots apiece in this game. I think the scoring chances are going to be 10 and under for each team. There wasn't a lot of scoring chances out there either way and they got three goals."
Pittsburgh will wrap up the road portion of the regular season Sunday at the Colorado Avalanche. The Wild also play their final road game next on Tuesday at the Winnipeg Jets. Each team finishes with its final three games at home.
Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was a late scratch from the lineup with what Bylsma classified as an upper-body injury. He said after the game the injury is not expected to be long-term and he is considered day-to-day.
|Erik Haula (5) ASST: Matt Moulson (26), Jason Pominville (27)|
1 - 0 MIN
|Mikko Koivu (11) ASST: Zach Parise (24), Charlie Coyle (17)|
2 - 0 MIN
|Stephane Veilleux (3) ASST: Cody McCormick (5)|
3 - 0 MIN
|Cody McCormick (2) ASST: Zach Parise (25), Charlie Coyle (18)|
4 - 0 MIN
|Lee Stempniak Hooking against Jason Pominville|
|Kyle Brodziak Hooking against Sidney Crosby|
|Robert Bortuzzo Hooking against Zach Parise|
|Stephane Veilleux Interference against Tanner Glass|