ST. PAUL, Minn. — Lagging behind in the Western Conference well past the quarter mark of the season, the Minnesota Wild were embarrassed by their last two losses with a whopping total of 13 goals allowed.
Pride and experience kicked in for a key game against the upstart Vegas Golden Knights.
Eric Staal scored the go-ahead goal with 7:55 left and tacked on an empty-netter to give the Wild a 4-2 win over the Golden Knights on Thursday night.
“We’re aware as a group what went on the last two games. The important thing is the response,” Staal said. “The important thing is to come out and play the way we know we’re capable of, and we did that I thought for the most part all night.”
Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin also scored for the Wild, who wrapped up the month with a 4-0-1 record in their last five home games despite a series of sloppy and sluggish performances throughout November. They lost 6-3 to St. Louis on Saturday and 7-2 at Winnipeg on Monday.
“We were just trying to get back to feeling like we used to feel,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 29 saves.
Brayden McNabb and Jonathan Marchessault had goals for the Golden Knights, who took their second straight loss after a five-game winning streak.
“The two teams are very similar, and I thought we played well,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said, adding: “It was a coin toss who was going to win.”
After allowing 30 goals in a seven-game span since three consecutive shutouts by Dubnyk, the defense was much more to Wild coach Bruce Boudreau’s liking.
“We understand that we’re not going to win a lot of 6-5 games, so we have to win the 4-2, the 3-1, the 2-1 kind of games,” Boudreau said.
The winner for the Wild was started by Matt Dumba’s slap shot that glanced off Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland in the front to set up Staal’s rebound . Dumba formed an effective defense pairing with stalwart Ryan Suter, with Jared Spurgeon out for at least two weeks because of a groin injury. Brodin and Ryan Murphy, a recent AHL call-up, also played well together. Murphy poked his stick to stave off a potential tying goal in the closing minutes. Mike Reilly’s slick cross-ice pass set up Granlund’s goal , the first of the game after more than 37 scoreless minutes.
All in all, a night well done by the embattled Wild defensemen. The Golden Knights went 0 for 5 on the power play.
“We played a really tight game,” Dumba said. “We were really solid.”
Granlund’s shot scraped the same post that Brendan Leipsic hit in the first period, one of three attempts by the Golden Knights that pinged off a pipe. James Neal and Stefan Matteau had the others. Dubnyk’s 10th victory of the season was well-earned, though.
He denied Marchessault’s close-range wrist shot with the inside of his blocker with 61 seconds left, among several prime scoring chances the Golden Knights produced down the stretch. In the second period, Dubnyk’s sliding save denied Leipsic on a rush.
The Knights, with former Wild forwards Erik Haula and Alex Tuch on the first line, still put together a potent attack. McNabb, the defenseman who signed a four-year, $10 million contract extension this week, broke up a pass in the Wild zone and trailed a 4-on-3 before a drop pass from Matteau set him up for a score .
Then Marchessault gave the Knights the lead, going high to Dubnyk’s glove side again, off a drop pass by Cody Eakin, all in a span of less than two minutes.
But soon after, the Wild tied it up. Nino Niederreiter, who was earlier denied with a difficult pad save by Knights goalie Malcolm Subban, muscled with McNabb for position near the crease as Brodin’s slap shot glanced off McNabb’s stick and into the net.
“We had our chances. We’ve just got to bear down at the end of the day,” McNabb said. “But I think we liked how we played.”
NOTES: Wild RW Jason Zucker, who assisted on Granlund’s goal, grew up playing roller hockey in Las Vegas and is the only Nevada-raised player currently in the NHL. … The Golden Knights placed LW David Perron on injured reserve before the game with an unspecified injury. … Granlund had six goals in 15 games in November. … Haula and Golden Knights D Nate Schmidt were roommates at the University of Minnesota.
Golden Knights: Stay on the road to face Winnipeg on Friday night. They beat the Jets 5-2 at home three weeks ago.
Wild: Host St. Louis on Saturday night, their first meeting in Minnesota since former head coach Mike Yeo and the Blues eliminated the Wild from the first round of the playoffs in five games last spring.
For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey