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Wild's 'fourth line' certainly not playing like one

Trio scores twice in Minnesota's one-goal win Friday against San Jose

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Some of the NHL's best teams in recent seasons boast four lines that contribute something on a nightly basis. Typically, every line has some sort of identity, but regardless of that identity, those teams are getting consistent production up and down the lineup.

Wild forward Nick Bonino would know. He's played on some of the NHL's best teams in recent seasons, winning a pair of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, as well as spending the past three years with postseason regulars, the Nashville Predators.

Bonino, as well as linemates Zach Parise and Nico Sturm have been a big reason why the Wild has continued its torrid play on home ice, as the Wild's fourth line scored two of the team's three goals in a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.

After going his first 39 games in a Wild sweater without posting multiple points in a single contest, Bonino has now done it twice in a row.

In five games since returning from the COVID-19 protocol list, Parise has three goals and two assists and is a plus-5. 

Those kinds of contributions will make the Wild a dangerous team down the stretch if it continues to get that kind of production from its bottom-six.

Video: SJS@MIN: Bonino capitalizes off turnover in the 1st

"You can look at every winning team the past however many years, there's always, not only scoring contribution, but just every line brings something, whether it's shutting a team down, whether it's energy, whether it's faceoffs, scoring," Bonino said. "So I think when you have all four lines rolling, it's always a bonus when every line scores, but as long as guys are doing what they do best out there. It seems like when our team does that, we're winning these games."

What Parise has done best over the course of his career is, well, score ... and score a lot. The veteran has tallied 30 goals in a season on six occasions, and barring injury or lockout, would have likely surpassed 30 a couple more times. 

Scoring didn't come easy for Parise early this season, but since landing with Sturm and Bonino a few games ago, that line has managed to find some serious chemistry. 

And while it has established itself as a line that can score, it also has lots of speed and is extremely difficult to play against as well. 

Video: SJS@MIN: Dumba sets up Parise for 3-1 lead in the 2nd

"They aren't fourth line. They played great," Evason said. "Start them in different zone, start them in the o-zone clearly, defensive zone. They're giving us a real boost for sure."

The opportunity to build that chemistry has been a welcome development for Bonino, who has been playing on the Wild's third and fourth line for much of the season. 

Parise, has yo-yo'd up and down the lineup, but played a bulk of the beginning of the season in the top six. His absence on the COVID-19 protocol, which forced him to miss a handful of games, forced Evason's hand when it came to putting him in a bottom-six role. There's no doubting the chemistry, however.

Video: Players Postgame vs San Jose

"He's played 1,000 games in this League. He knows where to be, he's always at the net. You know when you shoot it, he's gonna be there for rebounds, he's gonna be there for screens," Bonino said. "Obviously, has a ton of points, can make plays, so hadn't really had a chance to play with him much this year til now. I think it has been good. 

"And Sturmy, he brings so much speed and strength, he's hard on pucks, he wins pucks, gets pucks back. So it's been a good fit these last couple games."

Effective play up and down the lineup has allowed Evason to worry little about matching up lines. He said they didn't do it at all on Wednesday against Arizona, and did a little bit on Friday. 

Video: Dean Evason postgame vs San Jose

But for the most part, Evason has been able to simply roll his lines with relative ease.

"Clearly it's an asset to have the depth. I think every team and every coach wants that for sure," Evason said. "To have lines that you can roll ... we weren't concerned [about matchups] because everybody seemed to be doing the right thing and playing the right way. 

"To have four lines, and not only four lines, but the six [defensemen] that played, we could've played everybody in every situation. That's nice. There's no question when you can just roll, and guys are trusting and making those changes at the proper time because they trust that their teammate coming out is going to have a good chance to get the job done as he is, it's a good feeling for the group for sure." 

Video: SJS@MIN: Zuccarello strikes after face-off win in 2nd

That's certainly made his job, and that of his assistant coaches, much more enjoyable.

"We're not as stressed I guess, right? Because you trust that the guys are going to get the job done when they're out there and you're not holding your breath when you've got a D zone faceoff," Evason said. "We're not. It's a good feeling for us as a coaching staff." 


Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 3, Sharks 2

Video: Bonino, Wild hold off Sharks for 3-2 win

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