The Jets were the best team in the NHL during the regular season on home ice, a prowess they had no problem flexing during their sweep of the Wild in the first two games in Winnipeg.
Two clubs tied for the second-most points at home.
One of them was the Wild.
And that efficiency was on display in the team’s return to St. Paul. The Wild held serve with the Jets, muscling its way to a much-needed and hard-fought 6-2 victory Sunday in front of 19,175 at Xcel Energy Center in Game 3 to start to climb back into the first-round, best-of-seven series by trimming the Jets’ lead to 2-1.
“This is a bit of a statement game for us,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We’re here to play.”
After getting outplayed and overwhelmed during parts of its stint in Winnipeg, the Wild exhibited the desperation and urgency needed to avoid a disastrous three-game hole — a tone that was set by the veterans and emphasized by the youth.
Captain Mikko Koivu assisted on two goals, center Eric Staal earned two points — including his first goal of the series — and Dubnyk pocketed 29 saves, while winger Jordan Greenway buried his first NHL goal and defenseman Nick Seeler tallied a pair of assists.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Staal said. “You need everybody.”
This success, however, didn’t come easy. The Wild committed two slashing penalties in the first five minutes, and the Jets capitalized on their first shot — a throw by captain Blake Wheeler that got tipped by defenseman Jonas Brodin’s stick before scooting between Dubnyk and the post only 4 minutes, 50 seconds after puck drop.
“It didn’t rattle us,” winger Zach Parise said.
The Wild responded with its own power-play goal. Although the team failed to convert on a lengthy five-on-three, it still scored with the man advantage at 9:47 when winger Mikael Granlund put back a rebound off a Koivu shot.
“It made us believe that we could get another one,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
And then with 2:10 left in the first, Parise redirected a Koivu feed for his team-leading third goal of the postseason.
The Wild finished 2-for-3 on the power play; the Jets went 1-for-5.
In the second, the Wild grew its lead — an offensive outburst ignited by the puck possession and tenacious forecheck the Wild lacked on the road.
“We started to get a lot of success when we started putting pucks behind them and getting pucks on net and getting in front of [goalie Connor] Hellebuyck,” Greenway said.
Only 3:32 into the period, the fourth line set defenseman Matt Dumba up for a seeing-eye shot through traffic as part of his two-point effort.
As expected, though, the Jets didn’t sag. Instead, they clawed within one after a Tyler Myers shot from the half-wall eluded Dubnyk.
But the Wild capped off the period with three goals in 3:43.
Staal started the parade after accepting a Granlund pass and roofing it over Hellebuyck at 14:40. Only 20 seconds later, Greenway unleashed a glove-side shot that went in.
“You only get that moment once, and it couldn’t have been at a better time,” Greenway said.
After that, a Jared Spurgeon attempt deflected off winger Marcus Foligno and in at 18:23 — a franchise-record sixth goal for a home playoff game.
Hellebuyck was replaced by Steve Mason for the third; he exited the game with 16 saves, while Mason racked up seven.
“This gives us a lot of confidence,” Foligno said. “We can beat this team.”