Wild looking forward to challenge from Penguins
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild got some fortunate bounces to win their past two games on home ice. The league's best defensive team will likely need more than those when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a post-Thanksgiving afternoon game on Friday.
Yet, some things finally went Minnesota's way against Pittsburgh when the Wild came away with a 4-2 road win two weeks ago against the Penguins. Minnesota's win on Nov. 10 was the team's first win against Pittsburgh since April 5, 2014.
While the Wild are mired in a tough stretch, particularly when it comes to scoring, they can show they've changed under new coach Bruce Boudreau with another win against the Penguins.
“This was a great challenge, going up against the Stanley Cup champions. … Once we settled down, a lot of good things happened,” Boudreau told NHL.com of Minnesota's 4-2 win on Nov. 10. “I thought we competed hard.”
The Wild beat Central Division foe Winnipeg 3-1 on Wednesday, having a tying goal by the Jets negated by video review and then scoring themselves on the power play when a shot deflected off a Winnipeg player into the net. It's the second such sequence of video review and deflection that benefitted Minnesota in a week.
“We have been on the other side of that,” said forward Zach Parise, who added an empty-net goal. “At the time of the game, it was huge for us. The fans loved it. And then not too long after we got the second goal. There is the big difference in the game right there.”
Minnesota's defense continued to stifle the opposition. The Wild (10-7-2) have allowed just 17 goals in their past 13 games. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk will likely start in goal for Minnesota against Pittsburgh. In his past 11 games, Dubnyk has given up just 13 goals.
He ranks second in the NHL in goals-against average (2.55) and third in save percentage (.948).
“Huge; he's had too many of those big saves lately,” said forward Jason Zucker. “That means we're having defensive breakdowns, but we know that he's back there and he's going to give us those saves when we need him.”
Pittsburgh (12-5-3) is as dangerous as ever, especially with star Sidney Crosby healthy and scoring. Crosby leads the league with 14 goals. The Penguins are coming off a 6-1 road win against the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
With the day between, Pittsburgh held a practice on Thursday in Minnesota. The Penguins are in a stretch of seven games in 11 days.
“It's not just the physical recovery, it's about the mental recovery as well,” coach Mike Sullivan told the team's website. “That was one of the reasons we didn't have a morning skate (Wednesday). Keep them away from the rink, out of the building, give them a chance to maybe go for a walk and get outside. Sometimes that can re-energize guys mentally as much as it does physically.”
The timing proved beneficial for two Pittsburgh players. Minnesota natives Matt Cullen and Jake Guentzel were in their home state for the holiday. Cullen, the 19-year veteran and former Wild player, is from Virginia, Minn. He had one of the goals in the win against New York.
“We have a lot of family coming in and it's pretty special playing here,” Cullen told the team's website. “Knowing that it's likely the last time that I play here adds a little bit to it.”
Guentzel is a 22-year-old rookie who scored twice in his NHL debut this week. Guentzel was born in Omaha, Neb., but played high school hockey in the Twin Cities at Hill-Murray. His father is the associate head coach of the men's hockey team at the University of Minnesota.
“I'm really excited. It's going to be fun,” Guentzel told the team's website. “Playing (at Xcel Energy Center) in high school, I can't imagine how different it's going to be. It will be one to remember.”
The game has become somewhat of a tradition for the Wild. They have played the day after Thanksgiving every year of the franchise's 14 seasons of existence. Minnesota is 8-5-0-1 all-time on Black Friday, with all but one of those games at home. However, the Wild have lost three straight Black Friday games.