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Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 5, Senators 1

Niederreiter scores twice, Stalock solid in debut as Minnesota completes season sweep of Ottawa

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /'s Dan Myers gives three takeaways from the Wild's 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Thursday night:

1. Nino Niederreiter snapped a lengthy goal drought in the first period, then added another for good measure later in the game.

Video: OTT@MIN: Niederreiter lays out to sweep home rebound

His goal at 17:07 of the first period was his first since Feb. 27, a span of 16 games. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Wild has struggled during that span: Niederreiter was one of Minnesota's most consistent goal scorers during the first five months of the campaign.

"I think any slump affects anybody's overall game. Look at anybody, they start trying to do things that they're not used to doing. It weighs in on their mind and all of these things," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "We had a good talk yesterday, me and Nino, and I think he got back to what he does which is go to the front of the net and score in the front of the net. That's where he gets his goals. When he's playing physical and getting involved in the game, he's really good."

Niederreiter's first marker came 47 seconds after Mike Hoffman got Ottawa on the board first, sniffing out any momentum the Senators may have gotten from scoring the game's initial goal. 

Video: OTT@MIN: Niederreiter pots second with slick backhand

"It was definitely big," Niederreiter said. "I feel like we had a good start in the period, came out hungry and we wanted that win pretty badly, and obviously, they got the first goal, and [we] had a chance to come right back at them, and I think from there we just kept going, getting pucks in deep, get in traffic and finally get rewarded."

Goal scoring can be a finicky proposition. After going more than a month without one, it didn't take long for Niederreiter to ripple the twine once again, taking a spectacular between-the-legs dish from Eric Staal and depositing his second of the night behind Craig Anderson seven minutes into the second period. 

"When you don't score as a potentially top goal scorer, you get frustrated and it creeps in your game, and it's tough on you mentally," Niederreiter said. "And obviously, when the first one gets in you start feeling loose again, and then it's just a matter of time to get the next one."

Niederreiter's second goal sparked a two-goal second period that was one of Minnesota's best in a while. He now has 22 goals on the season, two shy of his career high. Half of his 10 multi-goal games in the NHL have come this season.

Staal's fancy assist marked his 60th point of the year, the ninth time in 13 NHL seasons Staal has reached the 60-point plateau.

2. Welcome home, Alex Stalock: He made the most of his Minnesota Wild debut, stopping 18 shots in the victory.

Video: OTT@MIN: Stalock absorbs Turris' powerful one-timer

Starting his first NHL game since Feb. 11, 2016, when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks, Stalock seemed to get more comfortable as the game went along. He was helped by a stellar defensive effort that, for the third game in a row, limited opponent chances. It was the third straight game the Wild held its opponent under 20 shots on goal through the end of regulation.

"I think the guys took that upon themselves. I didn't say, 'Hey. We've got to protect the goalie.' We did want to continue our trend of what I think has been playing pretty good defensively for the last little bit because that's what's going to win hockey games," Boudreau said. "I thought again we kept the team under 20 shots and we did a good job at it." 

Video: OTT@MIN: Stalock knocks down puck, covers up

 A native of South St. Paul and a former UMD Bulldog, Stalock has 20 wins in Iowa this season as he tries to get his game back on track after a frustrating career. He became the 17th goaltender to suit up in a Wild uniform, 22nd native Minnesotan and second goalie from the State of Hockey (John Curry). 

"Every game, you have nerves and butterflies," Stalock said. "Obviously, feeling the puck for the first time, saving it or handling it, it settles you in a little bit. As bad as it is, you don't want to give up a goal, but when you give one up, it's kind of a wake-up call, it's-time-to-go kind of thing. From there, I settled in and stopped the shots from the outside, so it was good."

3. Welcome back, Joel Eriksson Ek: He scored a big second-period goal to give Minnesota its first two-goal lead in 11 games. 

Sent back to Sweden after a nine-game run earlier this season, the talented two-way forward was recalled Tuesday and inserted into the lineup, his first appearance in the NHL since Nov. 12. 

Centering a line with Erik Haula on his left and Ryan White on his right, Eriksson Ek and his line mates provided the Wild with an early spark, especially White, who was all over the Senators in the first period.

Video: Ott@MIN: Eriksson Ek scores off Coyle's smooth feed

"It starts in the middle. Ek was good in the circle. I don't even know if we lost a draw in the first period. It's pretty easy to start the game off with the puck. Easy to get a forecheck going," White said. "We just tried to surround that puck and just try to get momentum for the guys."

Late in the second, Jared Spurgeon's slap pass was halted by Charlie Coyle near the hashes. He backhanded a pass to Eriksson Ek, fresh on the ice from a line change, and the 20-year-old ripped a shot past Anderson for a 3-1 lead with 2:28 left in the second, celebrating with the howl of a man excited to be back in The Show.

Tweet from @mnwild: Same @ErikssonEk, same. #YoureGolden

Eriksson Ek also used his speed to draw a tripping penalty on Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who was forced to haul him down as the speedy Swede was about to embark on a 2-on-1 break with Erik Haula. 

With four seconds remaining in that man advantage, Matt Dumba's clap bomb from the left point whistled under the crossbar to give the Wild a 4-1 lead.

"[Eriksson Ek] was very physical. He was in the right position all the time," Boudreau said. "I told him out there, I said, 'I want to see a game that I saw in Buffalo.' He scores that goal which was like the one he scored in Buffalo. I thought that was pretty cool." 

Video: OTT@MIN: Dumba snipes the corner with scorching PPG

Loose pucks

Jason Pominville celebrated his 900th career game by scoring a third-period goal that gave Minnesota a 5-1 lead.

Chris Stewart had two assists Thursday, a third of his season total entering the game. He now has 13 goals and eight assists on the year.

• Coyle finished with two assists and surpassed the 50-point mark for the first time in his career.

• After allowing goals on 3 of 4 power plays against Washington on Tuesday, the Wild killed all four Ottawa power plays.

• Following an 0-for-5 performance on the power play versus the Caps, Minnesota went 1-for-2 with the man advantage Thursday.

• Anderson finished with 21 saves.

• Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson did not play Thursday, snapping a streak of 324 consecutive games played.

• Attendance: 19,044

Video: Bruce Boudreau Postgame vs. Senators

He said it

"The last two games, we were moving in the right direction, we were playing the right way, and maybe a bounce here or there could have gotten us to where we wanted to be. Sometimes, that's the way it goes. You're not just going to come out of these things overnight. It's taken a little bit over a week here to get our game tuned up, and tonight was a good showing of it." -- Wild forward Ryan White 

They said it

"It's a difficult loss. They really took it to us. The score reflects really the whole game and if you look at how we got beat, they had more than us. They did the little things, they were a little harder and we've got to really regroup quick because we've got a really important one coming up on Saturday." -- Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf

Three stars

* Nino Niederreiter

** Joel Eriksson Ek

*** Alex Stalock

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