Center Eric Staal didn’t know if he’d suit up for the Wild until after he got on the ice Thursday morning, needing to aim pucks at the net and swipe his stick over the faceoff dot to test out his range of motion after a grisly-looking crash two nights before knocked him out of action.
“I had a few of those before,” Staal said of the collision along the boards with a linesman that sent him withering to the ice Tuesday night in the 3-2 shootout loss to the Ducks. “It just kind of shoots down your limbs a little bit and your arm, and it’s kind of a scary feeling. Didn’t really subside a lot till a lot later than it had in the past. But we took the right steps, and I was fine to go today.”
Staal was more than that.
He was also vital to the Wild as it continued its three-game homestand, scoring the first of two late goals that helped the team stave off the Oilers 6-5 in front of an announced 17,271 at Xcel Energy Center and extend its point streak at home to 11 games (8-0-3).
The Wild is 9-1-4 in its past 14 games.
“He’s been a big-time player his whole life,” said coach Bruce Boudreau of Staal. “So, these are things that I expect.”
After two quick goals by the Oilers in the third period evened it at 4, Staal answered back at 15 minutes, 13 seconds on a one-timer. Only 1:08 later, winger Luke Kunin flung in a shot set up by linemates Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek.
That emerged as the game-winner, since the Oilers’ James Neal flipped in a puck with 49 seconds to go.
“There’s no panic there on the bench,” Kunin said. “That’s a big positive when you see that out of your group.”
Greenway’s assist on Kunin’s goal capped off a Gordie Howe hat trick, as Greenway also scored and fought Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse late in the second after he hit Kunin.
“It’s part of the game,” Greenway said. “[Nurse] played hard. It’s something I thought I had to do.”
The clash, and the line’s effort on the deciding goal, only magnified the impact by the team’s youth, which had its handiwork all over the victory — even with a push from the veteran core.
Defenseman Carson Soucy was dynamic, setting up two goals to finish a plus-4, which tied the Wild record for a rookie in a game. Center Ryan Donato scored for a third straight outing (a career-high streak), and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen made 28 saves to improve to 3-0-1. Mike Smith had 20 stops for the Oilers.
“They’ve been really good to help us get back to where we’re going,” Staal said.
Edmonton capitalized eight minutes into the first period on a backhander by Oscar Klefbom, but the Wild tied it 4:35 later when Soucy’s point shot clipped Greenway and bounced over Smith.
With 18 seconds left in the first, Staal sprung winger Jason Zucker for a breakaway that he buried with his backhand. Zucker’s 12 goals are tied for the team lead with winger Zach Parise.
A Leon Draisaitl power play goal tied it two minutes into the second; Edmonton finished 1-for-2 with a man advantage while the Wild went 0-for-1.
But then the Wild took over in the second, with winger Marcus Foligno handcuffing Smith at 3:46 before Soucy set up Donato for a wrister at 7:50 — this after Soucy interrupted a McDavid pass that could have led to a scoring chance.
In the third period, the Oilers started to rally at 10:43 when Gaetan Haas deflected in a shot by Adam Larsson.
Only 2:06 after that, NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid slotted the puck into an open side. But he and Draisaitl were limited to three points, a tame showing from the NHL’s dynamic duo.
“Everyone is contributing,” Greenway said, “and doing what they have to do.”