Myers: Wild continue to compensate for four key injuries with depth
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The captain, the marquee star, the promising young defenseman and the inspiring goalie are all still watching from afar, wearing suits and ties. And still, with all of that adversity, the Minnesota Wild showed on Thursday night what it can do when it all clicks just right.
When the third line shuts down the other team's stars, the offense throws the puck around to the chagrin of a new goalie in the other team's net, the Wild's young goalie plays just good enough with traffic in front of him and just a few times the Wild offense clicks, this is what can happen.
The Wild's 4-1 win over the woeful Edmonton Oilers didn't come easily, although a typifying play to start the final 20 minutes made it look like a practice drill against pylons, rather than a regular season game versus a franchise with five Stanley Cup banners hanging in its rink.
With the Wild up 3-1, Charlie Coyle won the opening faceoff of the third period, then let Dany Heatley and Jason Zucker put on a show. Just eight seconds later, the show - and the game - were all but over, as Zucker broke hard to the net and took a pass from Heatley, who had pulled new Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens out of position, and the Wild's lone Las Vegas native slapped it home for a three-goal lead.
For Zucker, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thursday with 18,000 of his closest friends, it was his fourth goal of the season, and all of them have come since he was recalled from the Wild's minor league team in Iowa on Jan. 1. The goal was also a team record, for the fastest from the start of a period at home.
"Walking out for that third period, I was thinking, 'boy, it'd be nice to grab another goal here quick,'" joked Wild coach Mike Yeo, who was smiling and heaped praise all around. And many were worthy.
Goalie Darcy Kuemper had 20 saves in his third consecutive start. Jason Pominville opened the scoring with his team-leading 19th goal in the first period. Defenseman Nate Prosser even got in on the act. Less than 48 hours before the much-hyped Hockey Day Minnesota commences in his hometown of Elk River, Prosser snapped off a long-range shot that fooled Scrivens for the defenseman's first goal of the season.
It came late in a second period in which the Oilers had tied the game and looked intent on taking a 2-1 lead, dominating the space in front of Kuemper for long stretches. And the sellout crowd, never shy with its opinion of the home team, had made its restlessness known.
"Yeah, we hear those fans," Prosser said. "We know that our play wasn't up to par there for a while in the second. We weren't executing the way we should. As soon as that turned around, we had a few shifts in their zone and Pominville made a nice pass to me and I was just trying to get it high up over the goalie's shoulder and it happened to go in."
If this were the lockout-shortened 2013 season, we'd be in the playoffs already. Instead, after the nightmare that was the six-game losing streak with which the Wild closed out 2013, they've now won six of eight and have clawed their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture - thanks in part to the incompetency of teams like the Oilers, Flames, Stars, Jets and Coyotes wallowing beneath them in the standings.
And while they Wild waits for the return of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Josh Harding and Jared Spurgeon from various injuries, those sent over the boards to play in place of that quartet seems to be holding down the fort quite nicely.