“I really felt that we had a good team tonight,” the Minnesota Wild coach said after his team beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-1 on Tuesday night. “I said the guys are really playing well, determined, responsible – which maybe at the start of the season I felt like that. It’s been a long time.”
Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two goals and two assists while Mark Parrish also scored twice for and Brian Rolston had the other. The Wild tied a season high with its eighth straight home win and marked just the second time in that stretch that it won by more than one goal.
Minnesota, which took over sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division, is an NHL-best 17-3-1 at home and hasn’t lost at the Xcel Energy Center since Dec. 1.
The Wild host Tampa Bay on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday before starting a four-game road trip. They are winless in 10 games away from home.
Jon Sim scored with 22.3 seconds left for Atlanta, which looked sluggish in the final game of a four-game road trip. The Thrashers, who won 3-2 in overtime at Ottawa on Monday, finished with just 15 shots on goal, their lowest total since getting 11 on opening night.
“Basically, from the first drop of the puck we did not give ourselves a chance,” Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. “We had no energy and they were flying.”
Nor did it help the Thrashers that Minnesota played one of its best defensive games of the season.
Atlanta’s top three scorers – Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk and Vyacheslav Kozlov – combined for one shot, a second-period wraparound by Kozlov at the end of a power play. The trio has combined for 62 of Atlanta’s 127 goals this season.
“From the start to the end, we didn’t give them hope,” Wild goalie Manny Fernandez said. “You figure after the first or second period we’d slack off a little, but guys came harder and quicker.
“It looked like we overwhelmed them and there were no openings for them. I felt like every guy at my end was sharp and the forwards were coming back . . . I’m really impressed.”
Rolston beat Kari Lehtonen with a slapshot on the power play 2:54 into the game. Rolston, named the team captain for January, has four goals and three assists in his last three games.
Minnesota, which finished 2-for-8 on the power play, has eight power-play goals in its last three home games. It has eight power-play goals in 19 road games this season.
“We just need to bottle up whatever we’re doing, that intensity, that work ethic we’re coming with, just battling for loose pucks, and take it on the road somehow,” said Parrish, who scored his seventh goal in six home games late in the first for a 2-0 lead.
Five seconds after a penalty expired, a partially fanned shot by Bouchard was deflected by Hossa to Parrish all alone in front. He easily beat Lehtonen, who went down on Bouchard’s shot.
If not for Lehtonen, the margin could have been even worse. He stopped 30 shots in the loss, including several point-blank attempts as the Thrashers’ defence struggled to keep the Wild out of prime scoring range.
Parrish added his second early in the third period, finishing a 2-on-1 with Pavol Demitra.
“Mikko (Koivu) and Pavol are just controlling the game and giving me that extra second to get open to find that seam and find that little hole for a shot, and they’re putting it right there,” Parrish said. “I probably could have had a dozen goals in the last three games as many times as Pav and Mikko have been setting me up.
“I almost feel guilty not scoring more for them.”
Bouchard scored his first goal midway through the period, also five seconds after a power play expired.
“There were a couple of broken plays they started and ended up getting something out front,” said Lehtonen, who slammed his stick in disgust after Bouchard added his second goal with 3:11 to play. “I shouldn’t have committed so much to Demitra’s shot.”
Kurtis Foster had his sixth assist in three games for Minnesota, which improved to 5-0-1 all-time against Atlanta. This was the first game between the teams since Oct. 30, 2003.
Notes: Minnesota, which won its final three home games last season, also won its first eight home games this season . . . Atlanta D Steve McCarthy did not return after leaving the game with an upper body injury in the second period. He tripped Stephane Veilleux and slid into the end boards . . . RW Joel Ward was reassigned to Houston of the AHL. In six games with Minnesota, Ward averaged 7:57 of ice time and had one assist . . . Atlanta reassigned RW Darren Haydar to Chicago of the AHL. Haydar, who was recalled Monday but did not play, leads the AHL with 53 assists and 75 points.