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Coyle steps up, steps in when Wild needs him most

Versatile forward scores goal and an assist to help Minnesota salvage a point in Buffalo on Tuesday

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Cycling from wing to center between games is hard enough for some. But starting a game at wing and finishing it at center can be one that presents a whole slew of challenges. 

Not so for the Wild's Charlie Coyle, at least on this night, as he filled in more than capably down the middle in place of an injured Mikko Koivu in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday at KeyBank Center.

Koivu lasted just four shifts, sustaining what appeared to be a lower-body injury with nine minutes left in the first period.

All of the sudden, nearly every aspect of the Wild's game was forced to be adjusted.

The entirety of the Wild's forward groups needed to be shuffled. The team lost a valued penalty killer. It lost a piece to its power play. It also lost one of its emotional leaders, all of this, with 51 minutes remaining in a game the Wild already trailed by one goal.

Enter Coyle, who has made a habit of moving between center and wing virtually his entire career.

Tweet from @mnwild: "We stuck with wasn't very pretty, but we greased one out and were able to get a point. Any point right now is pretty important for us." ��� Jared SpurgeonMore from the locker room 👇 #MINvsBUF

After a slow start to this season playing mostly at wing, Coyle was shifted to center last month and played some of his best hockey of the year. He developed good chemistry with Zach Parise and Luke Kunin among others, a line that stayed together and produced until the Wild traded Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for centerman Victor Rask.

With a backlog of centers on the roster, Coyle went back to wing.

He's continued his solid play there in the five games since the move back, but looked super-charged with the opportunity to swing back to the middle Tuesday under unfortunate circumstances.

Video: MIN@BUF: Coyle cleans up in front to knot the score

"You just gotta turn your brain on and make sure you're doing the right things at your position," Coyle said. "It's not ideal, obviously, but it wasn't like I was thinking too much about it, you just do it. And I've done it enough, so I can kind of step into it. I felt good for the most part."

Perhaps it wasn't surprising that Wild coach Bruce Boudreau turned once again to his line of Coyle, Parise and Kunin, which looked like it hadn't missed a beat despite being apart for the better part of the last three weeks.

Coyle scored one goal late in the second period that capped a two-goal rally to send the game to the final frame tied at three, then earned the primary assist on Parise's goal in the final 90 seconds of regulation, a goal which earned the Wild a point.

Video: MIN@BUF: Parise jams one home to tie the game

"He accepts the role and I think he likes playing with Zach," Boudreau said. "It worked out."

Coyle, along with Ryan Suter (two assists) and Jared Spurgeon (two goals), finished the game a team-best plus-3.

"Charlie did a really good job filling in. He's pretty versatile," Parise said. "Hopefully it's not too serious with Mikko and he won't miss too long."

Already down a veteran centerman with Eric Fehr missing the game because of illness, the loss of a cog like Koivu would have been exceedingly tough to overcome for most teams in the League. 

But having the versatility of a player like Coyle on the roster available to step in is a luxury that most don't have.

Tweet from @mnwild: "They never quit....they want to win. They want to give it everything they've got and sometimes it comes up one short."More from Coach in Buffalo 👇

"You need it," Boudreau said. "In a perfect world, you have five centers every game playing for reasons like this. Mikko gets hurt and you need him to step in."

Ideally, Fehr will be back in time for the Wild's next game on Thursday, back at home, against the Edmonton Oilers. Minnesota is hoping for the best on Koivu; the team expects to learn more about its captain as soon as Wednesday morning. 

At a minimum, the Wild knows it has a quality in-house option in Coyle at center if he needs to stay there for an extended period.

"It's not the greatest situation to be in, he's such a huge part [of our team] on the ice, in the locker room... he's our leader," Coyle said. "You can't really replace him.

"But we have guys who can step up. It's some adversity to overcome but we're looking forward to the challenge."


Postgame Hat Trick: Sabres 5, Wild 4 (SO)

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