Mats Zuccarello's dash up the ice won the game for the Wild on Thursday as the team's losing streak expired with a 3-2 overtime win against Philadelphia. He flipped the puck into the net after hauling it almost the entire length of the Xcel Energy Center ice.
But the sequence might not have happened if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury hadn't fended off a Philadelphia power play early in the third period or block a breakaway by Owen Tippett during the first, a save that prevented the Wild's deficit from doubling.
Without a doubt Zuccarello's chance wouldn't have been possible if Fleury hadn't denied a 3-on-1 try from the Flyers seconds earlier.
"He's still out there making unbelievable saves, keeping us in games," Matt Boldy said. "He's a huge part of our team."
The Wild acquired Fleury before last season's trade deadline as one of the finishing touches to their playoff lineup.
Almost a year later, the veteran netminder is a factor earlier in that process by participating in the bid to get into the postseason, and the Wild's pursuit is benefiting from the quality stops Fleury has been making lately.
"Happy to be here," Fleury said. "Happy to be in the grind."
Fleury is tabbed for a third straight start on Saturday when the Wild face Buffalo at Xcel Energy Center in their last game before an eight-day layoff that includes their bye week and the NHL All-Star break.
Not since Dec. 4-9 has Fleury rattled off three starts in a row, with the Wild splitting up games more evenly between Fleury and Filip Gustavsson the last six-plus weeks; the team switched goalies for 10 straight games before this current run by Fleury.
"We're doing well," said Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Vezina Trophy winner who signed a two-year, $7 million contract in the offseason to remain with the Wild after he was traded from Chicago on March 21. "Gus is doing great, one of the best goalies in the league during that span. No complaints. As long as the team wins, to me that's what matters."
Although his two games before the slump-busting victory on Thursday were losses, Fleury was still turning in key saves.
He weathered a strong first period by Carolina on Jan. 19 before the Wild's penalty trouble caught up to them and the Hurricanes scored three special-teams goals en route to their 5-2 win. Then on Tuesday at Tampa Bay, the future Hall of Famer was quintessential Fleury, sliding all the way out to the slot to poke check a breakaway away from the Lightning's Brandon Hagel, who was also stymied by Fleury's glove in the third period.
"He never ever doesn't compete, ever," coach Dean Evason said.
After his 28 saves vs. the Flyers, Fleury improved to 15-10-3 on the season and his .920 save percentage since Dec. 12 ranks sixth in the league for goalies who've played at least 10 games.
He's at 969 career appearances and needs two more to tie Terry Sawchuk at 971 for the fourth most in NHL history among goaltenders. The 38-year-old is also 16 wins shy of equaling Patrick Roy's 551 in second place and if he gets to 20 victories, it'll be the 15th time that's happened in his career; only Roy (17), Martin Brodeur (16) and Ed Belfour (15) have accomplished the feat more than Fleury has.
Along the way to these milestones is another significant opportunity for Fleury, and that's helping the Wild secure a playoff berth.
"It's going to be hard, right?" Fleury said. "But once you do it, it's so rewarding and a good feeling. Glad to be doing this with these guys."