ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild fell into a sloppy pattern of play with the puck after taking an early lead on the floundering Florida Panthers, who snapped to life to forge a tie.
But the Wild proved they could learn a lesson—and win a game.
Charlie Coyle put Minnesota ahead with 8:22 remaining after Florida scored twice in the third period, and the Wild hung on to beat the Panthers 3-2 on Friday night for their sixth win in seven games.
“We kind of fell into that trap a little bit after the second period, where we wanted it to be easy,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We were hoping it was going to be easy the rest of the way. When you want it to be easy and you’re not ready to do the hard things, then it ends up being very difficult.”
After a scoreless second period, the Wild paid for their mid-game sluggishness by giving up goals to Tomas Kopecky and Jonathan Huberdeau about 5 1/2 minutes apart.
Minnesota’s top line was buzzing all night, though, and came through when it counted.
Mikko Koivu, who had two assists, controlled the puck along the end boards and leaned forward for an off-balance pass to Coyle, who was muscling for position in the crease with Mike Mottau. Coyle poked the puck in for his second goal in four games.
“He put it right on my stick, so it found a way home,” Coyle said.
Since Coyle returned from injury, the Wild’s lines have finally been settled. The results have been obvious.
“It’s nice to have, for sure, when you have guys that are going out there and they know what to expect out of their linemates,” Yeo said. “At the same time we just have to make sure that we don’t fall asleep here.”
Josh Harding stopped 22 shots to improve to 9-0 at home. The NHL leader in goals-against average has given up two goals or fewer in all but one of his 16 appearances. The Wild improved to 9-1-2 at home this season for 20 points, the most by any NHL team. At 12-4-4, they set a franchise record for most points (28) through 20 games.
Zach Parise scored early in the first period during a power play off a pretty tic-tac-toe-style passing sequence from Koivu and Jason Pominville, and Pominville pushed the lead to 2-0 with his team-leading 12th goal. The Panthers have been outscored 47-19 over the first two periods this season.
“We just need to learn how to play 60 minutes because that’s what kills us,” Huberdeau said. “We’re always down. We never score the first goal.”
Jonas Brodin’s own-zone turnover set up Kopecky for the first goal, his first this season. Then after Nick Bjugstad lost the puck on a rush when Ryan Suter forced him to lose control, Huberdeau swooped in behind him to snipe a shot high over Harding’s glove to break a 12-game drought.
“Even on the bench there was never any panic. We stuck with it,” Pominville said.
Tim Thomas made 17 saves for the Panthers, who played for the first time without Kris Versteeg. He was traded to Chicago on Thursday for a pair of prospects, including 6-foot-6 right wing Jimmy Hayes, who was scratched for this game.
After firing coach Kevin Dineen last week and replacing him with Peter Horachek, Florida general manager Dale Tallon has promised more changes if the Panthers don’t get in a groove. They started a five-game, 6,448-mile trip by falling to 1-8-1 on the road.
Their last win away from home was the season opener at Dallas.
“The good thing is that we showed character in coming back again, you know? A great effort,” Thomas said. “But we have to find some way to quit getting down and getting behind right off the bat.”
The Panthers went 0 for 3 on the power play and fell to 6 for 69 this season.
“It seems like there’s the same picture coming back over and over again,” Horachek said. “This is definitely a project for us to get over that mental part of the game.”
NOTES: Rookie Johan Gustafsson was recalled from the AHL to back up Harding, with Niklas Backstrom out because of an upper-body injury sustained Wednesday when Toronto’s Nazem Kadri levelled him in the crease. Kadri was given a three-game suspension by the NHL. … The Wild are 10-2-3 against the Panthers, including 5-0-2 at home. … Bjugstad, a star at Blaine High School and the University of Minnesota, played in Minnesota as a pro for the first time. He had about 70 friends and family members in attendance.