Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 6-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.
Hockey players are sometimes stoic if not robotic in their answers and routines.
No single game can be over-emphasized, for the fear of how it would affect product and the style of play.
But there was no denying there was a different feel to the Wild's game against the Avalanche on Tuesday, one that kicked in the second the Wild defeated the Panthers 3-1 on Sunday and could officially, vocally voice their concentration on Colorado.
The mood at Xcel Energy Center matched that of the players the crowd rooted on. It was into it before the anthem, roared when the Wild punched in three goals in a span of 7:11 in the first, held its breath when the Wild coughed up a two-goal lead in the second, and exploded when Charlie Coyle dunked a centering pass from Zach Parise for the game-winner in the third (WATCH).
"We dipped a little," Coyle said. "It was a great start obviously. That first was huge.
"We dipped a little in the second, so we came in, we knew we had more, and we knew we weren’t going to win that way. We picked it up and everyone kind of pulled the rope a little more, and we got the result because of it."
It was Broadway via Saint Paul, drama and energy fans normally have to wait until April to witness, but the marquee on Tuesday was a preview of what could come.
Now the Wild will soon return defenseman Jonas Brodin, and forward Jason Zucker. Deadline acquisition David Jones will also jump into the fold. But as Devan Dubnyk said this morning, if the Wild can be better than Colorado from here on out, Minnesota will find itself back in the playoffs.
"We’re in a spot where if we win our games, we’re going to be there," Dubnyk said. "It certainly didn’t feel that way with the stretch we went on. We’ve got 18 games now to control our own destiny and that’s a spot we’re happy to be in.”
And that's a position the Wild would like to be in.
The Wild put itself in a difficult situation early, and Colorado made it pay.
Twelve seconds after the opening puck drop, Nathan MacKinnon pivoted around Nino Niederreiter, and drew a tripping penalty.
Then 21 seconds after that, a Jarome Iginla shot from the left circle beat Dubnyk to make it a 1-0 game at the 33-second mark.
The Wild's penalty kill, which hasn't been up to its own standards of late, was given a difficult task right away, and after conceding that early goal, was scored on in six of its nine most recent shorthanded opportunities.
As the Wild's penalty kill attempts to re-find its groove, one of the most prudent approaches (as always is the case) is to stay out of the box. Then 12 seconds into a crucial game, the Wild did just that.
But Niederreiter would repent.
After the game, Niederreiter admitted he took it upon himself to step up in the wake of taking that early penalty that led to a Colorado power-play goal.
And step up Niederreiter did.
It began when Jason Pominville blocked a shot at Minnesota's blue line, with the puck deflecting right into the charging Niederreiter's path.
From there, the two forwards skated at Erik Johnson, and Niederreiter, stickhandling the puck into the path of the defenseman, pushed him further into the passing lane, and gave himself more of an angle to shoot at, beating Semyon Varlamov to tie the game (WATCH).
Sixty-seven seconds later, Niederreiter returned the favor for Pominville.
After Colorado won an offensive-zone faceoff, it was Pominville who was the first to the loose puck, beating the speedy Mikkel Boedker, and pushing the puck to Niederreiter. From there, Pominville was off to the races, shooting the gap between Nick Holden and Johnson, taking a pass on the tape from Niederreiter in stride, and beating Varlamov with a wrist shot (WATCH).
"We used our speed well," Pominville said. "We jumped on pucks and made some good plays, two good plays, and then we just hopped on the ice for the other one."
'The other one' came later in the period, when Erik Haula would score to keep the line hot (WATCH): In the nine games it has played together, the trio of Haula, Pominville, and Niederreiter has 12 even-strength goals and 26 points.
"When you build that chemistry and start scoring, you can start picking on little things," Haula said. "We read off each other pretty well right now and the dynamics are there for our line. We all understand what we have to do night in and night out with the matchups."
And that was how the Wild completely turned the first period on its axis.
Interim Head Coach John Torchetti likes to talk about matchups a lot, and on Tuesday, he had a pick-your-poison proposal facing a lethal Avalanche top-six.
What Torchetti went with, on paper, was speed-on-speed, electing to go with the defensively sound and fleet-footed Haula and his line, along with Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba, against MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Boedker.
"I just think that they want to play on both sides of the puck," Torchetti said of Haula's line. "The whole team can learn from that."
That left Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, and mostly the line of Mikko Koivu, Parise, and Coyle, to go up against Matt Duchene's line with Iginla and Mikhaill Grigorenko.
Those matchups did the trick, with Colorado's top offensive guns held off the board at even-strength.
"We talked before the game that winning that matchup is going to be huge, and trying to keep them off the board and checking them all, and eventually we’ll get chances," Haula said. "And I guess no better way to start it than getting three on them and getting them real frustrated right away."
While the Wild out-scored Colorado 3-1 at 5-on-5, the Avalanche scored at 5-on-4, and 6-on-5, and as has been the case lately defensively for Minnesota, even-strength is a friendly scenario.
In addition to the power-play goal it scored to open the game, the Avalanche also scored on a delayed penalty. Those goals came at key times, giving Colorado a very early lead, and then kick-starting its comeback in the second period.
The time spent away from five-on-five detracts from momentum the Wild is able to build. It juggles lines, and keeps players who don't kill penalties stewing on the bench.