Preview: Wild vs. Panthers
Outlier or slump-buster?
Only the remaining 52 games of their schedule will decide that, but for now, the Minnesota Wild are hoping the answer is the latter.
Tuesday night’s 7-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens was just their fourth win in 11 games and their first laugher in almost a month.
Minnesota will look to stack a second win on top of that one Thursday night when the Florida Panthers visit Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., for the second of its four-game homestand.
“If we don’t build on it, we’re not going to climb,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’re not in a playoff spot right now, so we’ve got to continue to have success and put a little run together. What better opportunity than this time when you have four games in a row at home?”
At 16-12-2, Minnesota currently stands a point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, its 12-5-2 start canceled out by its recent skid. The rout of Montreal, though, provided a variety of signs that indicate a winning streak might be on tap.
For starters, the Wild buried the Habs with four power-play goals, the first time they’ve done it since Oct. 14, 2010, when they victimized Edmonton. Their penalty kill was successful on their only opportunity, and goalie Devan Dubnyk bounced back from a brutal 7-2 loss in Edmonton Friday night with one of his typically stingy performances.
Dubnyk stopped 29 shots, seven in the first nine minutes of the second period when Montreal made its push to equalize. Saves on Brendan Gallagher’s point-blank chance and Jonathan Drouin’s rebound attempt at the doorstep were more like flat-out robberies.
“I mean, that’s my job. That’s what I’m here for and it’s OK to have to do that every once in a while,” Dubnyk said. “I thought we did a really good job in front of the net. We were hard on guys that were shooting pucks from the point. We were getting blocks or were working on guys if the pucks were laying in front and that’s a big part of it.”
While Minnesota was regaining confidence Tuesday night, Florida (11-12-6) was continuing its third straight season of mediocre play and results. The Panthers gave up four third-period goals in St. Louis to erase a 1-0 lead and fall 4-3.
Florida may have at least two games in hand on all its opponents in the Atlantic Division, but it still sits in last place, already 21 points behind Tampa Bay and four out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
What irked second-year coach Bob Boughner about this loss was the Blues‘ winning goal, a Brayden Schenn rebound marker. Boughner felt the referees missed a St. Louis penalty just before Schenn scored.
“I thought it was a cross-check,” Boughner said. “The guy that cross-checks him ends up getting the puck and it’s in the back of our net. That’s how it played out.”
The Panthers are expected to give forward Anthony Greco his NHL debut Thursday night. Greco has 12 goals and 11 assists in 24 games for their AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass., and has notched 57 goals in three-plus seasons with Springfield.