PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes, when things are going well for a hockey team, there isn’t a practical explanation for the magic. Jason Zucker freely admitted the goal he scored Saturday — his sixth in a row, and the one that gave the Wild a 1-0 victory at Philadelphia—was the product of good fortune as much as skill.
“I have no idea,’’ the Wild winger said, when he was asked how the puck got past Flyers goalie Brian Elliott. “It was an empty net, and it had a lot of spin off the boards. So I think when it hit my stick, it just kind of shot off, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what it hit. That’s just a lucky bounce.’’
Still, lucky bounces are rarely random in this sport. Zucker — who has scored all six goals the Wild has produced in its past three games — put himself in position to give the Wild its second consecutive victory by being smart, tenacious and energetic. His teammates followed suit at Wells Fargo Center, playing such outstanding defense that the Wild needed only Zucker’s goal at 1 minute, 8 seconds of the third period to finish its road trip with a 2-2 record.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 shots for his second consecutive shutout in perhaps his best performance of the season. The Wild gave him strong support, bottling up the Flyers’ high-powered “Ginger Line.’’ Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek — the second-highest scoring line in the NHL — combined for nine shots but came away empty-handed.
The victory ended a five-game losing streak to the Flyers and sent the Wild home with surging confidence after stringing together three strong games in a row.
“I’m just trying to play my game,’’ said Zucker, who finished the trip with six goals and one assist. “We’re trying to get wins right now. We need them really bad.
“All of us, every guy, you can look around and just tell they’re all trying to do a little bit more. I’m just trying to do the same.’’
The Flyers had won eight of their past 10 games against the Wild and were well-rested Saturday, with only one game in the past six days. The “Ginger Line’’ — a name the three gave themselves as a nod to their red hair — had been red-hot, with 23 goals and 60 points this season.
The Wild’s aim was to keep shots to the outside, disrupt passes with their sticks and prevent the Flyers from coming into the zone with speed or getting set. After a sloppy first period for both teams, the Wild stiffened up in the second.
Couturier said “it was almost like a playoff game,’’ as the tight-checking Wild hounded the Flyers. “They protected the front of the net and took away cross-ice pass and shooting lanes,’’ he said. “There wasn’t a lot of space out there.’’
The Wild was outshot 32-27, but Zucker got the game’s only goal when he got his stick on a Matt Dumba shot that hit the end boards and bounced to him on the left side. Zucker’s shot wasn’t hard, but it hit Elliott and went in.
Dubnyk looked comfortable and in charge throughout the game. He got lots of help from teammates who got in front of shots before they got to him, with Eric Staal and Ryan Suter making some key blocks near the end as the Wild blocked 11 third-period shots.
Afterward, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau joked that he’d like to see someone else score — but he wasn’t arguing with the result.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen somebody get this many goals in a row for a team,’’ Boudreau said. “But as long as he’s feeling it and we get a little bit of success, that’s good.’’