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Post Haste: Pominville Hot After Rough Start

Veteran winger among League's leading scorers over the past month

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- With the Minnesota Wild trailing by a goal early in the third period of a game Nov. 21 against the Dallas Stars, perhaps no series of events depicted Jason Pominville's season more aptly. 

Pominville scooted around the outside of a board battle, waiting for a puck to come free behind the Stars goal. It did, and linemate Erik Haula fed Pominville a pretty pass, setting him up all alone in front of the goal.

The veteran winger stayed patient, waiting out Stars goaltender Antti Niemi, sashaying to his right before finally getting his look at a yawning cage. His shot rang the right post but came right back to his stick. Moments later, he fired again then lifted his arms, thinking he had scored. 

Instead, Pominville had managed to hit the left post -- an almost impossible task, considering his angle and the amount of traffic in and around the blue crease.

"That probably describes how things were going for me for a while," Pominville said recently, shaking his head.

The Wild stayed with that play in Dallas as Haula eventually poked a loose puck into the goal, tying the game and helping Minnesota earn a point. 

It's the type of sticktoitiveness that has been a hallmark of the Wild's season to this point -- and to the second-half rebound for Pominville that culminated in his being named the NHL's First Star of the Week last week.

"It's been easy to come to the rink every day," Pominville said. "We're winning games, it's easy to come with a smile and keep a positive attitude and keep working. That's what I've been trying to do, and it's paid off."

Minnesota's team success helped Pominville through one of the toughest starts of his NHL career. Through 37 games, Pominville had just five goals and nine assists and was a minus-1. 

Against the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 5 -- the final game of that 37-game stretch -- Pominville received just 9:48 of ice time, the first time in more than a decade he had played fewer than 10 minutes (non-injury related) and just the second time in his NHL career.

Despite leading the team in hit posts (unofficially), a demotion to the fourth line and a seemingly endless string of bad luck, things turned for Pominville on Jan. 7 against the Los Angeles Kings. 

He dished out an assist in the game, the first of three straight games with a helper as Pominville worked his way back up the lineup.

In the 20 games since bottoming out versus the Sharks, Pominville is averaging more than a point per game and has scored a pair of game-winning goals to turn around his campaign.

What was the secret? 

Nothing, really.

"I felt pretty good most of the year, to be honest," Pominville insists. "I was getting looks. I just wasn't able to score. But I stuck with it."

Even when things were going poorly for Pominville, he kept a positive attitude. A former captain with the Buffalo Sabres and a regular fill-in alternate in Minnesota in case of injury, Pominville has been one of the most respected voices in the Wild's dressing room since he arrived in a trade deadline deal from the Sabres in 2013. 

"A good guy, a good guy to be around and you know when things aren't going well, sometimes that can be tough. But it seemed like it never affected him," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "He's a really important part of our team, so it's great for us when he's producing and when he's playing well."

After a slow start last year, Pominville combined with Haula and Nino Niederreiter to form Minnesota's best line down the stretch, helping the Wild to the postseason.

Once in the playoffs, Pominville was arguably the Wild's best player against Dallas, a series Minnesota lost in six games. 

"Last year, that line kept us afloat in the second half," said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. "He had some tough puck luck early on [this season]. But we knew it was coming for him; he's a great player in this League and he's been a great player. You know he's going to get those goals and those points eventually. [He hit] a few posts, but sometimes you get one good one and things start flowing.

"It's just nice to see a guy like that, we know what he has in him, sometimes it doesn't come. But we're all happy for him and we know he can keep doing that for us."

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, coaching Pominville for the first time after working against him both in Washington and in Anaheim, never panicked. 

When defenseman Jonas Brodin went down with a fractured finger on Jan. 17, Boudreau chose Pominville to take his place at the point position on the power play. 

Pominville has rewarded his coach's confidence, scoring 19 points in 15 games (through Friday) since being put back on the power play. While just four of those assists have come while on the man advantage, playing back there has allowed Pominville an opportunity to become comfortable once again with the puck on his stick. 

That's transitioned to his play at even strength.

"Having some confidence helps," Pominville said. "You feel better about your game and about yourself. I think it's just gone from there."

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