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Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 2, Sabres 1

Zucker's powerplay goal with less than 5 seconds left lifts Minnesota

by Phil Ervin /

Three takeaways from the Wild's 2-1 victory over Buffalo in both teams' preseason opener Monday night at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Penn.


1. Preseason hockey is not prohibitive of drama.

When the Wild gained a 4-on-3 advantage late Monday night with the score tied at 1, new coach Bruce Boudreau quickly called a timeout. Minnesota set up its umbrella in the Sabres' zone, and Jason Zucker rifled a shot from the right slot past goalie Linus Ullmark with 4.6 seconds to go.

"It doesn't matter if it's preseason or Game 82; we're trying to win," Zucker said. "That's the message [Boudreau] tried getting across today."

Minnesota hadn't worked on 4-on-3 power plays through four days of training camp, so Monday night's scenario proved a pivotal teaching moment.

"It's always good when you get the feeling of winning, whether it's preseason or not," Boudreau said. "I'm happy for a lot of the young guys, because we played a lot of them tonight. They played well."

Tweet from @mnwild: ���� That's a 2-1 win for #mnwild against Buffalo.

2. Kurtis Gabriel is making an early case for a roster spot.

One of those young guys is Kurtis Gabriel. The right winger earned a merit badge in his quest for a fourth-line roster spot, slapping home a one-timer from Nate Prosser in the slot at 12:34 of the second period.

Gabriel has had a strong camp so far after a brief NHL debut last season that included postseason action. In 66 games with the Iowa Wild, he tallied six goals and four assists. He'll get another chance to impress when Minnesota hosts Colorado on Tuesday night.

"(Boudreau) has made it pretty clear that he wants a fourth line who can play against anyone," Gabriel said. "I think playing in the playoffs gave me a huge amount of confidence to do that against Dallas. Everybody knows that's my role. They know I can do that, they just want to see me play a consistent shift and be defensively responsible."

3. Alex Stalock was solid in net.

South St. Paul native and offseason pickup Alex Stalock showed well in his first game in a Wild uniform. He played all 60 minutes Monday night and finished with 39 saves on 40 shots. His best stop of the night came seconds into the third period on a point-blank chance from Evander Kane. Stalock's right pad thwarted it.

Stalock had some help from a penalty kill that kept Buffalo scoreless on all five of its power play chances.

"Penalty kill was unreal," Stalock said. "We kept it simple -- kept them to the outside and blocked shots when we needed to."

With Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper in the fold, Stalock was brought in on a two-way deal to provide some depth in the crease, which the Wild has come to treasure in recent seasons. He was reliable Monday night between the pipes.

Loose pucks

Taking part in a pseudo-road game in the arena named after Sabres owner and Penn State hockey benefactor Terry Pegula, Minnesota played in front of a mostly-packed house with an announced attendance of 4,744. Stalock even had a few hecklers from the Nittany Lions' student section seated behind him during the first and third periods.

It was the first NHL game at Pegula Ice Arena.

The trip to central Pennsylvania also allowed Boudreau to catch up with some old friends from Hershey postgame. He coached the AHL's Bears from 2005-08, leading them to the 2006 Calder Cup and 2007 Calder Cup final.

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