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Wild's fourth line comes up big in win over Coyotes

Foligno's third-period goal lifts Minnesota Saturday in Glendale

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They don't award extra points for pretty wins. And they don't take 'em away when they're ugly. 

This time of year, with a host of teams breathing down its neck in the Western Conference standings, the Wild will take two points any way it can get them.

It certainly wasn't pretty Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes, but the Wild was able to grind out a 3-1 win in the desert, a crucial two points for Minnesota as it heads home to begin the final stretch run of its 2017-18 regular season. 

"Obviously, our second period definitely wasn't the way we wanted to play. We looked a little sluggish. We didn't play the way we wanted to play," said Wild forward Nino Niederreiter. "Overall, at the end of the day we got the win and that's most important."

Niederreiter's 17th goal of the season gave the Wild a 1-0 lead less than eight minutes in. At that point, after withstanding an early push from the Coyotes, the mission for Minnesota became clear: push that lead to two.

Video: MIN@ARI: Niederreiter buries rebound for PPG

It was something the Wild couldn't accomplish 16 days ago in this very same building, and it eventually bit Minnesota in the rear in a 5-3 loss.

The Wild pushed and pushed and pushed in the first, but could never find the second goal. 

Once again, it meant trouble.

Arizona poured on the pressure early in the second period, scoring 4:03 into the period on a breakaway goal by Clayton Keller. 

That goal seemed to tighten the Wild up. Turnovers became more prevalent; one gave the Coyotes a partial 3-on-0 breakaway. But goaltender Devan Dubnyk came up huge time and time again, stopping Richard Panik with a quick glove. Dubnyk finished with 30 saves, earning his 200th NHL win in the process.

Video: MIN@ARI: Dubnyk stones Panik with glove save

Like the Coyotes, who escaped the first down just a goal, the Wild likewise got out of the second with the game tied at 1.

Enter the fourth line.

Minnesota's most consistently solid line all night, it broke through with just over nine minutes remaining in regulation, first forcing a turnover on a forecheck by Daniel Winnik that was chased down behind the goal by Joel Eriksson Ek. Winnik gobbled up a loose puck and fed Marcus Foligno with a backhand pass, who spun and whistled a short-side wrister by Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta for his eighth goal.

Video: MIN@ARI: Foligno snaps one home from the circle

It was a pretty finish on what was a thoroughly un-pretty game.

"We knew on the back-to-back like this, especially against a team that has nothing to really lose, these can get away from you. So as a fourth line, you need to come up big in these," Foligno said. "We knew our first three lines yesterday had a heavy load against Vegas, so it was huge to break through and get the game winner."

So often on the second night of back-to-backs, it's the fourth line or the third defensive pair that is counted on to pick up the slack. 

After seeing both Eric Staal's and Mikko Koivu's lines approach 20 minutes of ice time in Las Vegas the night before, the third line, led by Matt Cullen, and the fourth line, centered by Eriksson Ek, knew they may have to play a few extra minutes.

During Minnesota's current 10-4-0 run since Feb. 19, each line has had its moments where it's needed to come up big.

On Saturday, the Wild's fourth line answered the bell.

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame at Coyotes

 "The spotlight is on them, especially when you're on the road because you can't control (last change) a lot of times, especially if there's an icing who's coming out against you," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "I mean, this team has been as hot as any team in the NHL except maybe Nashville, so we knew they weren't going away."

Now five points clear of both Colorado and Dallas in the Western Conference standings, the Wild knows its solid fourth-line play must continue if it hopes to not only make the playoffs, but do some damage once it does. 

Video: Locker room postgame at Coyotes

"We talked about it as a line too, we have to be better. We had to do a little something out there and create chances and bring that energy," Foligno said. "I think the other guys just picked up after that and knew that we were working out there. We have to produce [and] spread the goals ... to help this team be successful."


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