ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild have had to work a bit harder to generate any offence this season. That’s what made Jason Zucker zooming past everybody for a highlight-reel goal such a welcome sight.
Dany Heatley, Zucker and Torrey Mitchell all scored in the second period to rally Minnesota over the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Sunday night.
It was Minnesota’s first regulation win since Jan. 29 and just the second time it scored at least three goals in regulation over the last nine games.
“It’s big. I’m not going to sit here and say this makes our season,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do and we’re focused on continuing to get better as a group. But this is huge.”
Damien Brunner and Pavel Datsyuk scored for Detroit, which has lost three straight for the first time since March 10-21 of last season.
“You have to win and get points in this league, otherwise you lose sight of things in a hurry,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Right now, we’re taking on water.”
After Heatley snapped a nine-game scoring drought to make it 2-1, Zucker went coast-to-coast and scored his first NHL goal to tie it.
Zucker was called up on Saturday to try and spark the Wild’s offence. The 2010 second-round pick showed off his speed and made a slick move on Valtteri Flippula to break free and score unassisted.
“For me, I skate fast and I try to get the puck on net,” Zucker said. “That’s what I do.”
Asked about his shoot-first mentality, Zucker smiled and said: “I’m not exactly a passer. I’m trying to get the puck on net and limit my passing.”
Mitchell scored his first goal in a Wild uniform off a faceoff scrum to give Minnesota the lead 30 seconds later.
Several Minnesota players are sick, but Zucker’s pure speed and the play of backup goalie Darcy Kuemper made the Wild feel better.
Kuemper found out he was starting five minutes before the game due to regular goalie Niklas Backstrom being sick. After stopping 28 of 30 shots in his debut Tuesday, a 2-1 loss at Vancouver, Kuemper made 29 saves on Sunday.
Despite allowing 14 shots and hearing boos from the home crowd, the Wild only trailed 1-0 after the first period.
Brunner whacked the puck past Kuemper to give Detroit the lead at 8:48. Ryan Suter couldn’t clear the bouncing puck and Brunner took advantage.
“I knew I didn’t get much of a warm-up so they got one quick there and I just tried to ease myself in the game,” Kuemper said. “I just tried to continue to prepare myself and give our team a chance.”
Datsyuk, back after missing a game with a shoulder injury, beat the rookie with a wrist shot from outside the left circle 20 seconds into the second.
Then the Wild woke up and scored three times on rookie goalie Petr Mrazek in a span of 4:10 to take a 3-2 lead.
“I don’t know what happened in the locker room between periods, but we made some mistakes right from the start,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We never generated much after that.”
It wasn’t just the Wild’s offence that got rolling in the second period. Thanks to a diving save by Kuemper early and strong defence throughout, Minnesota killed a four-minute high-sticking penalty to close the second.
“We had a few chances. One of those has to go in,” said Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg. “If it does, this would be a different game.”
Besides the stretch in the second, Mrazek was solid, stopping 24 shots.
The Red Wings are now 8-2-2 in their last 12 games against Minnesota.
Notes: Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Justin Falk missed the game due to illness. Zenon Konopka was a healthy scratch. … Zetterberg had two assists and has 20 points in his last 14 games. … Zucker led AHL Houston with 19 goals and 41 assists. … Mikael Samuelsson returned from a groin injury and played in his third game of the season for Detroit.