Myers: Wild (finally) take a big step forward in quest for playoffs
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Glendale, Ariz. - For all of the stickwork and systems and fancy passing that has become a fact of life in modern professional hockey, there are still some basic axioms of the game that never change.
For example, the old adage that "a shot on goal is never a bad play" is one that can serve a struggling team well.
Such was the case on Saturday, when the Wild capped off a ridiculously nice weather day in the desert by sending a crowd of 16,000-plus (impressive, by Phoenix Coyotes standards) home unhappy, and took a huge step forward, finally, in their quest for a return to the playoffs.
Trailing 1-0 after 40 minutes, with what some said was nothing less than their season on the line, the Wild threw pucks at Coyotes backup goalie Thomas Greiss (playing while star netminder Mike Smith is shelved with an injury) early and often, getting two goals from Zach Parise and another from defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
"It's greasy goals, going in off a body or putting it on net and having a screen in front," said Spurgeon, who snapped a streak of five games without a goal. "Look at the highlights of the games nowadays. They're not all pretty goals. That's what coming in the playoffs as well. I just put it on net and it went in."
The end result was a 3-1 win, and a statement to Phoenix that they're not overtaking the Wild in the standings. At least not on this night.
Nearly as important as the third period, when the Wild out-shot the Coyotes 14-3 and out-scored them 3-0 was the first 30 minutes. The Wild fell behind early, on the road, as they have so often recently. But instead of letting doubt creep into their minds and into their game, they held firm, weathering the Coyotes storm, and tilting the ice in their favor, eventually.
It was a rally that started long before the third period. On Friday night the players gathered at their Arizona hotel for a meeting, without the coaches, to talk about where they were, and where they needed to be, in the wake of two disastrous losses where they had surrendered 10 goals.
"We had a talk amongst ourselves about it," said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. "The compete wasn't that great after we got down a couple goals. We stopped playing and that's not the way we were earlier in the year. We said something, and we really responded tonight."
Parise tied the game 1-1 with a simple "Mikko Koivu wins the draw back, Parise fires on net" play, but their post-goal celebration was something akin to an overtime-winner. The message was that this was a desperate team playing desperate hockey.
"You saw a little extra from guys," Suter said.
Dany Heatley, healthy scratch
Perhaps the biggest news came hours before the game, when coach Mike Yeo made the decision - long overdue in the opinion of many - to make Dany Heatley a healthy scratch for the first time this season. From an offensive production standpoint, it was an insignificant move. Heatley, while playing out the final year of his sizable contract, has not scored a goal since Feb. 27, and at this time of year when goals are in such high demand, Yeo was either sending a message, or simply clearing space for a spark, perhaps in the form of recent pressbox guests like Stephane Veilleux or Justin Fontaine.
After Spurgeon put the Wild up 2-1 with another simple "throw it on net and see what happens" play, Parise finished it off with an empty net goal. The two goals by Parise moved him ahead of his father, J.P., on the all-time NHL scoring lists.
What's at stake?
More importantly, the two points earned kept the Wild ahead of the surging Coyotes, and markedly improved their chances to play beyond the regular season. The Wild have seven games left - four of them at home. According to the numbers-crunchers, if they can win four, they're in, no matter what Phoenix and Dallas - both chasing them, do.
"We need to use this as a game we can springboard something off of," said Yeo, who won't say so but is surely aware that his job security hinges on the Wild playing more than seven games between now and the end of their season. "We've had enough games with some bad feelings, so let's use this one as something we can build off of."