ST. PAUL, Minn. – For six weeks, little had gone right for the Minnesota Wild. Games were lost. Goals weren’t scored. And coach Mike Yeo used the word fragile more than once to describe his team.
Saturday night, however, things were different after a 5-2 victory over Dallas.
Scoring three goals in a 59-second span certainly improves the mood of a hockey team. Instead of heads hanging, there was laughing, shouting and even a shaving cream pie in the face of Chad Rau, the Wild rookie who scored the winner in his NHL debut.
“That was really big,” Minnesota’s Matt Cullen said. “You look at where these two teams are in the standings and we have two huge games going into the All-Star break, so it was really big for us to kind of turn things.”
And it took less than a minute for things to turn around.
The Wild (23-18-7), 3-11-4 over the past 18 games, trailed 2-1 when Cal Clutterbuck picked up a loose puck in the Dallas zone and flipped it over a sprawling Kari Lehtonen to tie it. Fourteen seconds later, Rau took a shot from the left side of the crease that went off the stick of Dallas’ Brenden Morrow and into the net.
Kyle Brodziak finished off the flurry at 14:36 when he took a perfect pass from Dany Heatley and snapped a shot into the open side of the net.
The three goals in 59 seconds set a franchise record for the Wild, breaking the mark of three in 1:41 set in 2004. The four goals also were Minnesota’s most in a period in more than two years.
While there was still more than 25 minutes to play, the game was essentially over. The crowd, which booed the Wild off the ice at the end of the first period, was loud and Minnesota had the momentum.
“You want to respond after a team scores a goal, but when they bang a few back-to-back, it’s definitely demoralizing,” said Dallas’ Eric Nystrom, who scored the first goal of the game. “It gets in your psyche and momentum is huge in this game. They got on a roll and we couldn’t stop it.”
That hasn’t happened much of late for the Wild.
While Minnesota had the best record in the NHL in early December, they have had offensive troubles lately. Over the previous 17 games, the Wild had managed only 28 goals (1.65 per game). Minnesota scored more than two in a game only three times in that stretch.
The lack of offence was especially glaring during Minnesota’s recent four-game road trip. The Wild scored just six goals in those four games, going 0-3-1 and sliding backward in the Western Conference standings.
“We were on our toes,” said Clutterbuck, who administered the shaving cream pie to Rau. “We created a lot more turnovers in the neutral zone than we have in a long time. It was having the mentality of just being ready to go north with it.”
The difference was very clear to Yeo.
“As the game went on we had that feeling that we were just going to keep getting better,” he said. “It was a lively bench. Everybody was engaged in that game and everybody was going out, doing things the same way and the right way.”
Heatley stretched the lead to 5-2 just 1:29 into the third. Going in on a 2-on-1 break, Heatley passed the puck to Warren Peters before getting it back and beating Dallas reserve goaltender Richard Bachman. Heatley’s three-point game was his first with the Wild and his first since November 2010.
The Stars (24-21-2) were frustrated after losing both ends of back-to-back games and falling further behind Minnesota in the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
“We had a good 28 minutes going there, playing the way we wanted to play and we gave them life,” Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said. “A couple of little sloppy plays around the net and that’s it, that’s the ball game.”
NOTES: Wild D Marek Zidlicky was a healthy scratch for the first time since being acquired by Minnesota before the 2008-09 season. … Cullen was honoured before the game for having recently played in his 1,000th NHL game. … Rau, from nearby Eden Prairie, became the sixth Wild player this season to make his NHL debut. … Dallas, which lost Friday to Tampa Bay, is 0-7-1 in the second-half of back-to-backs this season. … The game was the finale of Hockey Day in Minnesota, an event featuring televised high school, college and NHL games. … On Sunday, the Wild will host their annual outdoor public practice at the Oval in suburban Roseville.