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Wild third line uses size to find success

Stewart, Eriksson Ek provide only offense, Foligno consistently good in opener against Red Wings

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Despite a season-opening loss in Detroit on Thursday night, there was still plenty about the Wild's game that coaches and players liked. 

Minnesota outshot Detroit by a 39-31 margin, a difference that was especially noticeable in areas below the face-off dots.

"I think that's our game; playing below the goal line, [being a] possession team, we've got big forwards, getting pucks to the dirty areas and scoring goals. We did some good things," said Wild forward Chris Stewart, who had a goal and an assist against the Wings.

Stewart's line, with winger Marcus Foligno and centerman Joel Eriksson Ek, was responsible for all of the Wild's offense Thursday, scoring a pair of goals 48 seconds apart in the early moments of the third period. 

That line used its size to wear Detroit down around the net. During the early parts of training camp, it was Charlie Coyle playing the right wing on that line with Eriksson Ek and Foligno. But after Coyle was moved to the Eric Staal-Nino Niederreiter line, Stewart was moved up from the fourth line, keeping that line big and strong.

Foligno, making his debut in a Wild uniform, was especially effective and nearly scored a goal banging away at a loose puck in the crease in the first period. The puck crossed the goal line, but referees ruled that Foligno had interfered with Jimmy Howard.

"His physicality really helps," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When they get in on the forecheck, that line is pretty good, and they did [that] on their two goals in the third period, for sure, they were in on the forecheck. They had zone time in all three periods."

Video: Wild Works to Improve in Carolina

While Minnesota has a game under its belt, Carolina will be playing its regular season opener on Saturday. Boudreau said he expects the Hurricanes to come out firing and Minnesota will need to weather an early storm, like it did Thursday in Detroit.

"I thought, even [with] the disallowed goals, I was really ... happy there was the time delay," Boudreau said. "They were the ones that were at home with the adrenaline flying and everything else. I was convinced in my mind that if we came out of that first period ahead or tied, we'd win the game. But I've been wrong before."

Where the Wild could have an advantage is that it has already seen the pace of regular season hockey, where Carolina will be experiencing it for the first time.

"It's a far different cry, an NHL game than it is a preseason game," Boudreau said. "The pace is a lot quicker. I think we tired a little bit, some of us, near the end [on Thursday] because of that pace. Hopefully, they tire. They will have had a week off completely. We have to meet their push early and hopefully, because we've played a game, it benefits us."

Stalock on Saturday?

It's just the second game of the regular season, but with the Wild's start-and-stop schedule the first three weeks of the campaign, Boudreau will have to get creative to get goaltender Alex Stalock a start or two.

One of those times could come Saturday, as Boudreau indicated Stalock could get the starting nod.

"There's a good chance," Boudreau said.

Granlund misses practice

Wild forward Mikael Granlund was the only skater not on the ice for practice on Friday when the club skated at PNC Arena. 

Boudreau indicated it was a maintenance day for Granlund and that he expects him to be available for the game on Saturday.

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