The results are telling, but how the Wild has outdueled the Jets in three meetings so far is particularly impressive.
Not only has the team been able to rally, but it’s also built a lead and preserved it – like the Wild did Thursday en route to a 3-2 decision at Xcel Energy Center in the team’s return home after a four-game road trip.
“It’s big,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “This is a team that there’s certainly a good possibility of matching up come playoff time if we get there and as much as the regular season doesn’t matter, we need these points right now and it’s always good to have a winning feeling in both arenas just so you have that in your head and you know what it feels like.”
These two teams will square off two more times but after prevailing Thursday, the Wild clinched the season series.
It opened the set with a 4-2 comeback Nov.23 in St. Paul before methodically outlasting the Jets for a 3-1 victory Dec.29 in Winnipeg.
After going up 3-0 in this latest go-around, the Wild eased up and the Jets tacked on two – including one in a third period that saw no shots from the Wild.
But despite the lopsided look of the frame, the team didn’t seem to lose too much control and it wasn’t a surprise that it was still ahead when time ran out.
“We’ve played our best hockey, quite frankly, in the three wins even though we were trying to do rope a dope in the third period,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If there were two more minutes, I wouldn’t have liked to see what happened. But sometimes that’s the way you learn how to protect a lead by getting lucky and knowing the mistakes you made in your own zone. Hopefully we learned from that.”
After forwards Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Luke Kunin along with defenseman Jared Spurgeon provided a chunk of the scoring on the team’s recent four-game road trip, it was an encouraging sign for the Wild to have winger Jason Zucker chip in two goals against the Jets – including the eventual game-winner.
“It’s good to see Zuck score,” Boudreau said. “I think in the next little while you’ll see other guys start to score some more as well.”
Zucker and center Eric Staal went goalless on the road swing and although Staal hasn’t scored in his last seven games, he did set up the team’s first goal from rookie Jordan Greenway.
“He made a good play on my goal,” Greenway said of Staal. “I just kinda got lost out in front and he made a great pass, and I just tried to get it off as quickly as I could.”
The evening also featured a standout showing for the Wild's penalty kill, which rebounded from an 0-for-2 performance against the Bruins Tuesday in the 4-0 loss to Boston to extinguish all four of the Jets' looks.
Winnipeg also had just four shots with the man advantage.
“Everybody knows what these guys are going to do,” Boudreau said. “It’s just very, very difficult to stop them when they’re doing it because they’re so good. But we did a good job.”
Although he didn’t face too much work during the kills, credit Dubnyk for getting square to winger Patrik Laine when the puck careened to his spot on the left side – the same preparedness Dubnyk had last week in Toronto when superstar Auston Matthews set up in a similar spot.
“You can’t get leaning or sitting back because it just becomes very difficult to get over there and get square, and you want to get over there on your feet and get set,” he said. “So you just have to always understand that that’s where the look’s going to be, and you’ve got to try to stay centered as much as you can.”
Aside from winning the scoring battle, the Wild also had the edge in blocked shots (22 to seven) and faceoff wins (36 compared to 19 for the Jets).
“That’s how you close up hockey games when it’s one goal,” Dubnyk said.