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Young guys lead the way as Wild wraps pre-holiday schedule on a high note

Eriksson Ek scores winner, Kunin has two-point night as Minnesota gets to three games above .500 heading into Christmas

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- At one point late in the Wild's 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Monday, there were six players with points on the scoresheet, the oldest of whom was centerman Nico Sturm, who at 24, was playing in his sixth NHL game. 

The performance of its younger players has been perhaps the biggest reason for the Wild's turnaround following a dreadful 1-6-0 start to the season.

During that stretch, Jordan Greenway, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato and Luke Kunin combined for two goals (both by Kunin) and four assists. Donato and Fiala each had just one assist apiece.

Greenway went the first 16 games of the season without scoring a goal, breaking that skid Nov. 14. Donato went his first 13 games without a goal, scoring his first on Nov. 7. Fiala went the entire month of October without lighting the lamp. 

Perhaps it's not a shock that the Wild found itself at the bottom of the NHL standings in mid-November. 

But as the team's young players have started to contribute, the Wild has started to win on a more consistent basis. That's most certainly not a coincidence.

Video: CGY@MIN: Greenway, Kunin team up for sweet goal

"Our veterans have done such a good job of showing us the ropes," Donato said. "It's starting to payoff for us. We've had some injuries and we needed guys to step up. And I think the more that we play, the more comfortable we're going to get and it sets us up for a strong second half."

On Monday, 22-year-old Joel Eriksson Ek got the Wild on the board early in the second, getting helpers from Fiala (23) and Donato (23). 

Just under five minutes later, it was Kunin (22) from Greenway (22) and Sturm. 

Video: CGY@MIN: Staal rips puck into empty net to pad lead

Only a late empty-net goal by 35-year-old elder statesman Eric Staal changed the narrative, although Kunin earned the second assist on the goal for a two-point night.

When the Wild's young core is contributing, it is a very hard team to beat, even on nights when the veterans are kept off the scoresheet.

Video: Boudreau postgame vs Calgary

"Our team's all about balance. Every game that we're successful in it seems like we get different lines scoring goals, so they gotta be part of it," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "And when they're part of it, it's good. I think we've got scoring threats quite frankly on every line and that's how we have to play to win."

Since their ugly starts, all four have broken out in a big way. 

Fiala has 13 points in his past 16 games. Donato has six points in his past nine. Kunin's nine goals this season are tied for fourth on the club, behind vets Staal, Zach Parise and Jason Zucker. Greenway has four goals over the past month, but has found other ways to contribute more consistently as well.

Beyond that, even young defenseman Carson Soucy has proven to be one of the Wild's most pleasant surprises. The wily 25-year-old rookie has four goals, nine points and is a ridiculous plus-16 in 35 games.

Video: CGY@MIN: Eriksson Ek whips pass home to open scoring

Eriksson Ek, who missed the past four games with an upper-body injury, scored the game's first goal on Monday. The goal was his first game-winning tally of the season and fourth of his career. 

Video: Locker room postgame vs Calgary

 "A guy like that comes in from out of the lineup and just plays so big for us down the middle," said Wild forward Marcus Foligno. "Kevin has probably been our best player for the last month. Kunin and Greener, when they show up, they're so recognizable. When they've been finding each other, it's just so fun to see. Donny, you can just tell, he's a goal-scorer.

"It just boosts everyone when those guys are going. For our team, we have a mix of both older and younger. And when everyone is going, we're a scary team."


Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 3, Flames 0

Video: Dubnyk, Kunin lead Wild to shutout against Flames

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