Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 6-2 win against the New Jersey Devils:
Through the first 19 minutes of tonight’s contest between the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils, the game was shaping up like a classic goaltending duel. Devan Dubnyk and Cory Schneider were trading saves in a Mexican Standoff, neither giving an inch. However, Schneider blinked first and the Wild rifled in six goals on the way to chasing the Devils’ netminder from the game.
Sean Bergenheim netted his first in a Wild sweater, Chris Stewart physically scored his first with the club and Jared Spurgeon did Jared Spurgeon things in his second game back from injury. The three were the Third, Second and First Stars of the game, respectively. The team had so many players at a high level tonight, Thomas Vanek scored twice and was on the outside of the Three Stars.
In his 25th consecutive start with the Wild and 200th of his career, Dubnyk again kept the team in the game until the club’s shooters reloaded. The goaltender is essentially Doc Holiday (played by Val Kilmer) in the movie Tombstone, he could stop a puck with a tin whiskey cup. Dubnyk has been the Wild’s huckleberry since coming to the club on Jan. 14.
In his first six games with the Wild, Bergenheim was shuffled around the lineup as Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo attempted to find the right fit and chemistry for the new forward. Before the game, the team’s bench boss suggested that playing along with north-south forwards on the fourth line, Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula, might be favorable for Bergenheim’s style of play. Well, it looked like the hunch was correct, as the 31-year-old scored his first goal with the Wild in the opening period.
The wing was a force on the forecheck tonight, creating chances by using his speed and tireless work in the offensive zone. His stlye has been described as north-south for good reason, as he takes straight lines to close down gaps on the forecheck. On his goal, the line worked the puck deep in the Devils zone, winning races and eventually Brodziak used a second effort to find Bergenheim in the slot. The lefty used a quick release to beat Schneider.
Stewart is gaining comfort in his role with the Wild. In one of his first times speaking to the media, the wing said that the Wild brass didn’t want him to reinvent the wheel and bring his physical style of play to the lineup. Another element the beefy forward adds is a strong net-front presence, particularly on the power play. Although he didn’t score on the PP, he helped the second unit get set up in the zone on the forecheck and, once set up, was a constant distraction to both Schneider and Devils defensemen. He’s about as difficult a player as any in the National Hockey League to move when he gets into position and helped set up the team’s third goal (we’ll get to that in the next Take).
Of course, net-front presence means that a player needs to actually get to the front of the goal—something Stewart did on his second goal in as many games (and first he actually put in). After somewhat embarrassingly laughing about his first goal in a Wild sweater, the forward can be proud of tonight’s effort and put it on his personal highlight reel. After corralling a rebound, he showed a soft touch by sliding it through Schneider’s legs.
While Stewart leased an area front of the net, the Wild’s second unit worked the puck on the perimeter. After several seconds of in-zone pressure, the puck went to Mikael Granlund behind the net. As the man advantage expired, the forward bided his time and found Spurgeon sneaking in from the point for a one-timer. Anytime someone sets up a goal from behind the cage, the mind automatically drifts to the game’s greatest player…
The area behind the net where Granlund set up is affectionately known as Gretzky’s Office, because the game’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, used the spot so effectively to set up offense. The Great One using the area behind the net as an offensive catalyst was like the weaponization of gunpowder. Before 99, no one used the ice behind the cage as a space for offense. Granlund finding Spurgeon from behind the goal was a tip of the cap to the hockey’s best set-up man.
Reputations can be difficult to overcome, just ask the Wild and Devils. Both clubs are often called boring and defensive minded because of earlier incarnations of the organizations. The mid-90s Devils popularized the neutral zone trap tactic, sucking the life out of offense and fun with more efficiency than a Dyson vacuum. In the early years after expansion, the Wild used the trap because the organization lacked the offensive talent to keep up with other clubs, even after the NHL attempted to open up the game by cutting down on interference and stick infractions.
If you would’ve looked at the 1-0 score after the opening period, you might’ve thought, “Same old Wild and Devils.” However, the first frame was anything but boring, slow and void of skill. The clubs combined for 29 shots in the first, many of them the high quality variety. It was only Dubnyk and Schneider that kept the game low scoring in the opening 20 minutes. Clearly, fans in the State of Hockey know this Wild team is about as entertaining and exciting as any in the NHL. Minnesota has essentially pulled a Don Draper on the ice, changing the conversations in hockey circles due to its play.