ST. PAUL, Minn. — Through the first three games of the season, the Minnesota Wild felt they had played well enough to win, but it didn’t translate in the standings. Mike Yeo’s team skated to an 0-1-2 record to open the year.
Finally, the Wild have a win to show for their efforts.
Minnesota outplayed visiting Winnipeg in just about every category Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, an extension of the way the Wild had played in their three previous games. This time, the result was a 2-1 win over the Jets.
“The biggest thing is it’s just good to get both points,” Yeo said. “Four games in, we were pretty much continuing with a lot of things we did. But the bottom line is we got both points. Needless to say, I think we needed that.”
There was no sense of panic in the Wild locker room after an overtime loss, a shootout loss and a regulation loss to Los Angeles, Anaheim and Nashville, respectively. There was, however, a sense of urgency to finally get that first win in the books after three straight one-goal losses.
The proverbial monkey is now off Minnesota’s back, thanks to a game-winning goal by Matt Cooke midway through the second period. Cooke poked a loose puck past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec after Pavelec couldn’t fully corral a shot by Torrey Mitchell.
“I’m just thankful they don’t ask how,” Cooke said of his second goal of the season. “We want to go to the net. We want to go to those tough areas. I want to be there as much as I can.”
Defenseman Jonas Brodin tallied a first-period goal for the Wild, who outshot the Jets by a 30-15 margin. Minnesota out-chanced Winnipeg, too, from start to finish. The Wild had several good looks early on to create separation but couldn’t bury the puck. Jason Pominville hesitated on a centering pass from Zach Parise and failed to score on the doorstep. Mikko Koivu shot wide on an early look from the slot. Ryan Suter had a scoring chance on a rebound but didn’t capitalize.
Still, the opportunities were there, a sign that Minnesota was indeed outplaying Winnipeg. While the Wild felt they also outplayed their opponents in the first three games, they finally had a win to back it up.
“We’re getting good opportunities,” Parise said. “Pucks are going to keep finding our sticks. We’ve just got to bear down and put them in. When you’re getting those chances, the puck’s going to go in.”
The only goal Minnesota gave up Thursday came with the Jets on a 5-on-3 power play late in the second period. Bryan Little beat Wild goalie Josh Harding with 42.8 seconds to play in the second with Brodin and Kyle Brodziak in the penalty box.
In his first start of the year, Harding stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced. He was given the start in place of the injured Niklas Backstrom, who is day-to-day with a knee strain after crashing into the goal in Minnesota’s loss to Nashville.
Harding wasn’t tested often by the Jets, but he answered the call in Thursday’s win.
“I thought he was very good for us,” Yeo said. “He looked in control. He responded well to different situations. … He showed good composure, good confidence in the net. He was solid.”
Faceoffs were key for Minnesota in Thursday’s victory. The Wild won a franchise high 74 percent of their faceoffs (45-of-61), a big reason why they were able to control the puck in Winnipeg’s zone for a good portion of the game. Koivu won a team-high 14 draws, while Brodziak and Zenon Konopka each won 11.
In doing the little things well, Minnesota skated to win No. 1 on the season. High expectations have been placed on the Wild, and the pressure of earning that first win was starting to build after three games.
The pressure’s now off as Minnesota moves to 1-1-2 and prepares to host Dallas
“We lose as a team and we win as a team. Today, I think everybody had a part in this,” Harding said. “It’s always good to get a win. In our minds, we could have had a couple. It’s how the game works. It’s a great league. The parity around the league is very good. We’re just glad that we got the win today, and now we’re going to look forward to tomorrow.”