Jason Pominville's second goal proves to be the game-winner in 4-3 win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - In a corner of the Montreal Canadiens' locker room, deep in the bowels of the Xcel Energy Center, there sits a whiteboard where the visiting team's coaches often list the Minnesota Wild's lines prior to battle. On Friday, for the Canadiens, it was a waste of non-permanent marker.
"Parise - Coyle - Heatley" it read for the Wild's top line, which was correct, for roughly one shift. Early in the first period of the Wild's 4-3 win over Montreal, veteran Dany Heatley had left the top line and given way to rookie Justin Fontaine. The immediate effect was Fontaine's fourth career goal - a puck that was shot by defenseman Keith Ballard and caromed off Fontaine into the Montreal net, giving the Wild an early lead.
A few shifts later, captain Mikko Kouvi was centering Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle. The Wild built a 3-1 third-period lead. In the third period, concerned about conditioning, as Coyle was playing for the first time in nearly a month after coming back from a knee injury, Wild coach Mike Yeo juggled again, moving Coyle down a line. If Canadiens coach Michel Therrien had scouted the Wild extensively, those well-laid plans were certainly thrown out the window.
The Wild's second line should've been Montreal's primary focus anyway. After an opening month when the Wild often struggled to score despite dominating games, the combination of Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund is clicking, and finishing. In the second period, Granlund's long lead pass created a Pominville breakaway, which led to a 2-1 Wild lead. In the third, Granlund fed Nino Neiderreiter for a two-goal lead.
But Montreal stormed back to forge a 3-3 tie, and pressured Wild goalie Josh Harding again and again.
Then, Parise and Pominville ended up in the Montreal zone together, with the former feeding the latter for the eventual game-winner. After a shaky start to his Wild career - filled with injury and unease after coming over from Buffalo in a deadline-day deal last season - Pominville leads the Wild with nine goals this season, and has five of them in the past three games.
"Pucks are finding me and I'm finding ways to put them in," the humble Pominville said, after the Wild improved to 5-1-2 at home, and began to put behind them the beating they'd taken from Chicago earlier in the week. "But I think it's just kind of finally getting rewarded for all the work we put in. I think as a line we went through a little bit of a tough stretch and weren't able to generate much in the goal column and now we're starting to chip in, in that way. It's obviously nice to go out there and make plays and help the team offensively, because I think we know we're capable of doing that."
The much-hyped debut of Granlund last season was similarly uneven, with the Finnish star looking out of place on the NHL stage at times, and spending large chunks of the season in the minor leagues. With six assists in the past four games, the NHL pace seems to be fitting Granlund's game more and more.
"I feel much more comfortable than last season," Granlund said. "It was tough one last season, but I'm getting better all the time and there's now a little confidence in the game, so it helps a lot and it's a big part of my game. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and even try to get better all the time."
Seeing Pominville used to be a habit for the Canadiens, who had not lost a game in St. Paul since 2005. With the scoring wonder in Minnesota, rather than Buffalo, the Canadiens will only see him twice this season. That suits them fine.
"He's a great player and a character guy," said Montreal captain Brian Gionta. "He's a good addition to that team. Unfortunately we just weren't able to counter against their top line. It's nice not to see him that much, that's for sure."
By contrast, the folks on the other bench, and the 18,000-some fans in attendance, suddenly like everything they see.