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Updated: April 1st, 2014 4:56pm
Zulgad: Matt Moulson sent much-needed message by defending teammate

Zulgad: Matt Moulson sent much-needed message by defending teammate

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Matt Moulson has five goals and four assists in 14 games for the Wild since he was obtained from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline.

Those statistics don't reflect Moulson's most significant contribution since he arrived in Minnesota.

That came at the 12-minute, 7-second mark of the second period of Monday's 3-2 victory over the Kings in Los Angeles, when the veteran winger jumped to the defense of teammate Jason Pominville after the Wild's leading point-getter absorbed an elbow to the head area from Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin.

Muzzin delivered the cheap shot in the neutral zone, sending Pominville flying. The 6-foot, 205-pound Moulson isn't known as a pugilist but he didn't hesitate to tackle the 6-3, 217-pound Muzzin.

Moulson was assessed a double minor for roughing, while Muzzin, who inexplicably was allowed to get away with the elbow, received only one minor for roughing.

The Wild trailed 2-1 at the time and there might have been a few watching the late-night telecast in the Twin Cities who shook their head in disgust that Moulson would chance giving the Kings a power play.

Those people don't get it.

Not only did the Kings not score on the power play, but the Wild rallied for two third-period goals, including Moulson's 22nd of the season, and gained a key second victory in a row on a difficult four-game road trip.

If this all seems vaguely familiar, it should.

The Wild and Pominville found themselves in a nearly identical situation last season in a game against the Kings, only that time the end result was very different.

With the Wild holding a 2-0 lead over Los Angeles last April 23 at Xcel Energy Center, Los Angeles' Dustin Brown delivered an elbow to Pominville's face. No one on the Wild did a thing, and Brown claimed he was innocent of any wrong doing. 

Pominville, who had been acquired from Buffalo last season, ended up with a concussion and Brown was given a two-game suspension to end the season.

Those who liked the Wild's passive approach explained the game was too important for someone to take a penalty that might have given the Kings a power play.

That was a bunch of hogwash.

While I agree staged fighting in hockey is a waste of time, there is something to be said for sticking up for a teammate and not allowing an opponent to push you around. Defending yourself is essential to survival in the NHL. There are good penalties and bad penalties, and coming to the defense of a top player almost never results in what could be termed a bad penalty.

The Wild went on to beat the Kings in that game at the X, but they also delivered this message: Feel free to push us around because we have no intention of defending ourselves and if you happen to take a run at one of our top players, well, that's OK, too.

The lack of unity felt on the team was apparent in the next game when the Wild somehow lost by five goals to a bad Edmonton club at home, forcing the Wild to win their regular-season finale in Colorado in order to qualify for the postseason.

That was followed by a first-round playoff loss to Chicago.

There no guarantee that this up-and-down team is going to have any more success in the postseason under Mike Yeo in 2014.

The Wild, which lost four of five in a recent stretch, now has 89 points and is five ahead of Phoenix, which occupies the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference.

After opening this road trip with a 5-1 loss at St. Louis in which the Blues bullied and pushed the Wild around all night, the leaders on the team called a players-only meeting to provide a message about the urgency that is needed this time of the year.

The lip-service might have been a good idea, but that doesn't win you games or show a teammate you have his back.

What Moulson did on Monday, both defending Pominville and scoring a goal, provided a far more important message not only to his teammates, but also to opponents.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Jason Pominville, Mike Yeo
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