The Minnesota Wild won for the first at the Xcel Energy Center since Dec. 28 with a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers Sunday.
Erik Haula had arguably the greatest individual play in the third-year center’s NHL career. The former University of Minnesota star added to his already career-highs for goals (eight), assists (14) and points (22) with a tally and helper. Haula has now recorded five multi-point games in the last 11, totaling four goals and seven assists in that span.
He broke a 1-1 tie and put the Wild ahead for good beat three Panthers’ on his way from the top of his own circles to the net. Haula first poked the puck away defenseman Dmitry Kulikov at the top of the circle to Devan Dubnyk’s right. He then blocked a shot attempt by forward Reilly Smith just inside the blue line. Next he split Smith and defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the neutral zone. Finally, he beat Roberto Luongo with a chip shot just under the cross bar over the goaltender’s glove.
“It feels good,” he said about the “artistry” of his goal. “We need wins right now, that’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter who gets (the game-winning goal) or whatever happens during the game as long as we get those two points (in the standings).”
The Wild had lost nine straight games at the Xcel Energy Center, a record of 0-6-3, dating back to a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 28. The only home win in the span came in the Stadium Series game on Feb. 21 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“We needed a full 60 (minutes) and that’s what we have been talking about,” Haula said. “I feel like we stuck with it and it wasn’t always pretty. That’s how it is going to be from now on. It is going to be tough to win games.”
Haula got his assist on the game-clinching goal with 39 seconds left in the game and the Panthers’ net empty. He poked the puck away from former Gopher teammate Nick Bjugstad at center ice that Jason Pominville picked up at the center red line. The goal came 1 minute, 8 seconds after the Panthers tried to get the tying goal with the net empty and seven players on the ice. Pominville’s empty-net power play goal gives the Wild a tally with the man advantage in eight straight games and 14 of the last 17.
The Wild (28-25-10) got on the board first 5 minutes, 18 seconds into the game when Charlie Coyle tapped a backdoor pass from Zach Parise into the wide open net behind Panthers starting goaltender Al Montoya, a couple minutes later he was injured and forced to leave the game. Coyle got position on Aaron Ekblad and just had to keep his stick on the ice to get his team-leading 19th goal of the season.
“It’s always nice to have a guy like him, or him, in the lineup because there is no one like him. It was a great play on that one,” Coyle said about the pass from Parise. “That’s an ideal situation, getting on the board right away and giving us some momentum going forward and not playing behind. Huge goal right off the bat.”
The Panthers (35-19-8) tied the game on a penalty kill breakdown from the Wild at the 7:34 mark of the second period. Ekblad was left all alone in front of the net as all four penalty killers got caught over pressuring the puck in the corner. Nate Prosser pressured Aleksander Barkov behind the net and took the puck away from him, but was unable to get full control of the puck. Barkov got stationed at the bottom of the circle and was pressured by Ryan Carter on a touch pass back to Jussi Jokinen in the corner. Carter’s and Marco Scandella’s presence left near the puck left no Wild player outside the face off circle to Dubnyk’s left. Ekblad one-timed a pass from Jokinen that Dubnyk got a piece of, but not enough to stop from going into the net.
During the first period, the Wild acknowledged captain Mikko Koivu for breaking the franchise record for career games played. The team’s first ever permanent captain surpassed longtime friend and current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz by playing in his 744th career.
“It was nice,” the 11th-year center said. “It wasn’t planned for this night, but my family was in, obviously my wife and kids too. It was probably nice for them too.
“I’m not surprised with the way they handle people here. It has always been first class. The way they handle players in the past and also the fans too. I’m very pleased.”
The Wild play what may be the biggest game of the year on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche at the Xcel Energy Center. The Avalanche currently own the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. But, a Wild win in regulation would flip the two teams in the standings. The Wild move up to the second wild card spot because of the first tiebreaker (greater points per game percentage — in other words, played less games).
No. 3 – Zach Parise. The Wild forward recorded an assist.
No. 2 – Charlie Coyle. The Wild forward scored a goal.
No. 1 – Erik Haula. The Wild forward had a goal and an assist.