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Zulgad: Wild need Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker to join playoff party

Feb 28, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (33) controls the puck as Minnesota Wild left wing Jason Zucker (16) defends during the third period at MTS Centre. Minnesota Wild win 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild finally got some much-needed playoff contributions from a few key forwards in a 6-2 victory over Winnipeg on Sunday. Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno all scored their first goals of the postseason as the Wild cut the Jets lead to 2-1 in this first-round series.

Staal, the Wild’s top-line center, and Granlund, who was moved to the right wing on that line for Game 3, also added assists in what was a must-win for Minnesota.

“I think we know what makes us successful, and we needed to respond in Game 3,” said Staal, who led the Wild with 42 goals and 76 points this season. “That’s still not good enough. We have got to respond again in Game 4. They won the first two in their building, and we’ve got the first one here and we get another chance at home (on Tuesday).

“We have to be ready to play. They’re most likely going to be better, and we need to raise our level as well. I think we can still get better with some of our play in some areas. It’s going to be a good challenge, but we should be excited about it.”

The Jets opened this series with 2-1 and 4-1 victories at home, but the Wild rebounded Sunday in St. Paul with the type of bounce back performance that we have seen so often from a team that seems to embrace digging itself a playoff hole. A game after allowing the Jets to physically dominate them, the Wild matched Winnipeg’s aggressive style and frustrated the Jets.

The contributions from Staal and Granlund were crucial considering they had combined for only one assist (from Granlund) in the opening two games. “You need different people at different times to step up and contribute, and we had a lot of that in our lineup (on Sunday) and that has to continue,” Staal said.

There are three forwards in particular who must starting contributing far more in Game 4 on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. The list includes first-line left wing Jason Zucker, second-line right wing Nino Niederreiter and third-line right wing Charlie Coyle.

Zucker finished second on the Wild with 33 goals this season, while Niederreiter had 18 and Coyle 11. In the first three games of this series, that trio has yet to provide the Wild with a point.

That lack of production is a recipe for a first-round playoff ouster.

Zucker, who has 97 career regular-season goals in 330 games but only four goals in 29 playoff games, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and a continued goal drought isn’t going to help his cause in contract negotiations.

Coyle, who had two goals in the Wild’s first-round playoff loss to St. Louis last spring, has had an extremely disappointing season. His goal total dropped by seven in 2017-18 and his point production went from 56 to 37 as he missed 16 games after playing in all 82 for three consecutive years. Coyle’s absence was caused by a broken right leg suffered on Oct. 12 in Chicago.

The maddening thing is that the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Coyle looks like a guy who is built for the rough-and-tumble style of playoff hockey. Only far too often he simply disappears or looks lost.

Niederreiter suffered a high left-ankle sprain in the same Oct. 12 game in which Coyle was injured and has struggled with injuries all season. He told The Athletic in February that he attempted to play with a fractured left fibula for two games after he aggravated his high-ankle sprain in late December.

Niederreiter looked to find his groove when he recorded a hat trick upon his return on Jan. 4 against Buffalo but he has only five goals and 13 points in 36 games since that time.

Are Coyle and Niederreiter attempting to play through injuries that are limiting them? That’s possible. But hockey players are the first ones to tell you that injuries aren’t an excuse and that if they are playing they must contribute.

This is especially true for three guys who play among the Wild’s top nine forwards.

All three need to start doing far more in the points department beginning Tuesday if the Wild are going to tie this series and make sure there is a Game 6 in St. Paul.

“We’re still in a desperate situation,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We were (Sunday) night and we are (Tuesday). If we lose, we’re still down 3-1 going into Winnipeg. It’s not a question about feeling good about yourself. We survived (with the Game 3 victory).”

The Wild also survived without getting points from three key forwards. If those three don’t join the postseason party,  the offseason is going to arrive in quick fashion for Boudreau and his players.





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