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Five Takeaways From Wild Vs. Panthers

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

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 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center.

FIRST TAKEAWAY

A big, big win for the Wild on Sunday, but we'll get there.

First and foremost, congratulations to Mikko Koivu, the Wild's captain, and now the franchise leader in games played.

Koivu's accomplishments and milestones he's created in the State of Hockey are plentiful. (So plentiful in fact that listing them all here would be in excess, so read about them all here.)

Part of recognizing Koivu for passing long-time friend and teammate Nick Schultz included a video montage shown during a stoppage in the first period of Koivu's big Minnesota moments, which you can watch at the bottom of the page.

"I got chills actually," Charlie Coyle said. "A guy you obviously know, and play with, and to see him get the recognition, it's awesome. That was pretty cool."

Koivu's parents were on hand for the game, and were planning on being in Minnesota all along, before the reality set in of the milestone.

Then Koivu got to look up at the jumbotron in the first period, and re-live 10-plus seasons of Wild moments.

"To be honest, I didn’t think about it, and when I saw Tommy Thompson there on the big screen, I was like, ‘Ok, it’s going to be that,’" Koivu said. "Going back to that 10-year anniversary game there, you’re thinking about the times here and how much has changed and started here.

"I just told my parents today, now with two kids and got married and with a family, so life is a lot different off the ice as well. But it’s been great. Feels like we’re home. People around us are first class; we’ve made a lot of friends. We’re happy here."

And what Koivu has done with the Wild — staying with one franchise for all 11 seasons of his career — is special. Since Koivu debuted for the Wild as a fresh-faced 22-year-old in 2005, the Finnish import has transformed into on the NHL's top two-way forwards, a leader on and off the ice, and a Minnesota hockey staple.

SECOND TAKEAWAY

The Wild desperately needed a home win to end a long slide at Xcel Energy Center, and with the game tied 1-1 in the third period, Erik Haula willed them there.

The Wild won at home as recently as two games ago, but the Wild had not won in Saint Paul in 62 days, since a Dec. 28 win against the Detroit Red Wings.

That's a nine-game span in which the Wild had collected points in its home arena (three combined overtime and shootout losses in that stretch), but Haula, with a highlight-reel individual effort, bagged Minnesota two big points on Sunday.

"It was all about the win at home," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "The fans deserved it, they were great tonight; they supported us. We hadn't won at home in a long time. It's a feeling that you have to be comfortable with out there."

It began when Haula curled back at his own circle, and with an active stick, broke up a pass intended for Dmitry Kulikov.

From there, Haula hounded the puck away from Reilly Smith, pushing it in the direction of Eric Gudbranson.

But Haula wasn't done, catching up to the loose puck, and out-hustling and out-muscling his way through Smith and Gudbranson, before roofing the puck under the crossbar for the eventual game-winner.

It's worth repeating how well Haula has been playing of late. The goal, his sixth in 26 games since New Year's Eve, went unassisted. And Haula earned it, with one of his prettiest and hardest-working goals of the season.

"We need wins right now, that’s the bottom line," Haula said. "It doesn’t matter who gets them or what happens in the game as long as we get those two points. It’s playoffs right now already and we’re ready for a huge tilt on Tuesday."

THIRD TAKEAWAY

Zach Parise put in some dogged work to help set up the Wild's first goal. But as much as Parise orchestrated the action getting the puck to Coyle, Coyle himself was pretty instrumental in creating some space for himself.

As Parise skated across the slot in the offensive zone, he was waiting for something to open up. Akin to a quarterback scrambling around the pocket, waiting for a wide receiver to break off his route, Coyle, reading Parise, muscled his way to the inside of Aaron Ekblad.

From there, Coyle gave Parise a clean target, stick blade on the ice and in the blue paint, and let his linemate float a pass after holding onto the puck, and turning the sequence into a goal.

"That was a great pass," Coyle said. "It’s always nice to have a guy like him, or him, in the lineup. There’s no one like him, obviously. Great play on that one."

FOURTH TAKEAWAY

After not dressing on Friday against the Washington Capitals, Devan Dubnyk returned to the lineup and looked very sharp against the Panthers on Sunday.

Dubnyk sat out against the Capitals for maintenance a game after a nasty collision with the Philadelphia Flyers Jakub Voracek.

On Sunday, Dubnyk didn't look like a goalie feeling the worse from that Friday collision, showing strong lateral mobility and doing a good job tracking low shots with his pads.

In the first, he got a good push-off with his right leg, gliding through his crease to meet an Aleksander Barkov one-timer.

In the second, he stayed upright but used his core and lower-body strength to maintain his posture while moving laterally to get his right pad on a Mike Matheson shot.

Those are all motions that are integral to Dubnyk's goaltending toolbox, and ones he executed with ease on Sunday.

FIFTH TAKEAWAY

That's another game where Minnesota was the better team at even-strength, but gave up another power play goal.

While the Wild's power play has remained hot, with goals in 13 of its past 16 entering Sunday, and did the trick again, scoring a late, empty net power-play goal.

Meanwhile, the Wild's penalty kill conceded a goal for the fourth straight game, and its sixth in the past eight. Since the All-Star break, the Wild's penalty kill is at 75.6 percent (31 for 41).

The Wild had lost its two previous games by a goal, with its penalty kill going 0-for-1 in those losses. Torchetti said that's where Minnesota could have used a big kill, to make up for that difference, but the Wild was unable to do so.

Aaron Ekblad was able to slip free on Sunday, and sneak a puck through Dubnyk on a one-timer. It was a slight lapse in a two-minute sequence the Wild was generally proficient in. But with how much parity there is in the NHL, and the matter of inches that have made up the difference between wins and losses lately, those small mistakes stick out.

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