Wild coach Dean Evason knew the Arizona Coyotes were going to come out swinging on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
After a couple of shellackings at the hands of the Wild over the weekend — the goal differential was 8-1 in those games — the Coyotes needed a win to stay relevant.
“They are going to be hungry, desperate, and energized to play here tonight,” Evason said before the game. “If we’re not ready, then we’re going to be hurt by that. Our message today is that whatever they’re going to bring tonight it has to be matched by our group for sure.”
That’s exactly what the Wild did, grinding their way to a 3-0 win, and stretching their winning streak to five games in the process. Kaapo Kahkonen finished with a 31-save shutout to record his ninth straight win between the pipes. Ryan Hartman, Mats Zuccarello, and Jared Spurgeon provided the goal support.
All of a sudden the Wild (18-8-1, 37 points) are miles ahead of the Coyotes (12-13-4, 28 points) in the standings and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
It was a fast start for the Wild on this particular night as Hartman scored early in the first period to make it 1-0.
“It gave us a real good feeling early,” Evason said. “That goal helped us get going.”
While the Wild were in control at that point, things got a little hairy midway through the first period when Carson Soucy was assessed a five-minute major for elbowing Conor Garland along the boards. It was a lonely five minutes for Soucy, especially considering he’s usually a mainstay on the penalty kill.
“It goes by really slow,” Soucy said. “You’re sitting in there all by yourself and these guys are grinding out there.”
Luckily for Soucy, his teammates stepped up with him in the penalty box, namely Kahkonen, who made a few clutch saves in the crease. That successful penalty kill seemed to give the Wild a boost moving forward.
“The guys got jacked on the bench,” Evason said. “You don’t see guys standing up on the bench very often except for goals. The guys were up on their toes on the bench cheering. It was a good momentum boost for us here tonight.”
Not long after Soucy exited the penalty box, Lawson Crouse jumped him in response to the earlier hit on Garland. Though he landed a few haymakers with Soucy on the ice, Crouse was ultimately assessed a game misconduct for his temper tantrum.
“I would have liked a chance to be ready for it,” Soucy said. “I understand he’s sticking up for a teammate. I’m not going to say, ‘No.’ I know he’s protecting his player. I would just like him to give me a chance to not be almost changing on the bench.”
That paved the way for the second period where Kahkonen continued to stand on his head. His biggest save came when he denied Clayton Keller on a breakaway.
“You see a skilled guy coming in like that and just want to be patient and try to out-wait him,” Kahkonen said. “Just try to make him make the first move and good thing it worked out.”
That effort from Kahkonen was finally rewarded in the third period as Zuccarello netted an insurance goal to stretch the lead to 2-0. For good measure, the Wild killed off a 5-on-3 power play later in the third period, and Spurgeon finalized the score at 3-0 with a blast from the point.
“Every time we’re getting ready to gear up for a game, we have the mindset that we’re going to go out there and we’re going to win,” Hartman said. “It’s been a good feeling. Everyone’s enjoying being here at the rink.”