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Determination to honor Fleury showcased the drive Wild need

From players arriving at Xcel Energy Center wearing boutonnieres to a pregame ceremony headlined by an emotional video homage, the Wild honored goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for his accomplishments with subtle salutes and grand gestures.

But their most important tribute came on the ice.

During the final minute of the third period as the Wild clung to a one-goal lead, Brandon Duhaime, Brock Faber, Frederick Gaudreau and Jake Middleton looked like Fleury clones the way they impeded shot attempts by the Penguins, who were on a power play and pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 manpower advantage.

"It was fun to watch them sliding," Fleury said. "Two-pad stack there. Two-pad stack there."

Their five combined blocks plus Fleury's three saves against Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby sealed a 3-2 win for the Wild, a fitting ending for an evening dedicated to Fleury for becoming the second-winningest goaltender in NHL history and just the fourth ever to play 1,000 games.

"I think Brandon would have blocked that with his face if he needed to," Matt Boldy said of Duhaime. "Obviously, a lot of respect there. We weren't losing that one."

The motivation to not spoil Fleury's celebration, which culminated in his 553rd victory in his 1,009th game, might have been unique to the occasion, but what it elicited from the Wild shouldn't be.

After slumping into the All-Star break and dilly-dallying out of it, they finally showed the desperation expected of a team trailing a playoff spot.

"Everyone had an impact," Boldy said. "There were no passengers, and that's a step in the right direction, for sure."

In catch-up mode since their early-season swoon, points have long been in demand for the Wild even if they haven't always played like it.

They fell apart in the third period to Nashville on Jan. 25, a costly meltdown since a regulation win would have lifted the Wild just two points shy of a wild-card berth in the Western Conference. Then two nights later, they were upset by Anaheim after again losing a lead in the third.

When they returned to action after a 10-day layoff, the Wild weren't much better vs. last-place Chicago on Wednesday, narrowly eking out a 2-1 victory.

"Nashville, Anaheim and Chicago were not, I think, the standard of play, the standard of competitiveness, the standard of the commitment you need in the hard areas of the ice," coach John Hynes said.

Against Pittsburgh, the Wild adjusted some of their forward lines, and they got Jonas Brodin back on defense from illness, but the attentiveness that was lacking before was sharper.

When the Penguins secured the equalizer after Boldy capitalized first, the Wild replied by tallying the next goal, a strong individual effort by Brodin. They had the same reaction after Pittsburgh scored again, with Kirill Kaprizov becoming the first Wild player to reach 20 goals in four consecutive seasons.

"It's important that we win those close games," Zach Bogosian said. "They tie it up, and we respond right away. Those are big, key moments in the game, and I thought the guys responded really well."

That resilience wouldn't have mattered, though, if the Wild didn't defend their net so diligently in the waning seconds.

Blocking shots, boxing out and denying second opportunities was a focus of theirs, and they put on a clinic in front of Fleury — especially Faber, who got a piece of an Erik Karlsson wind-up before a last-second stop against Bryan Rust.

"That's what it takes to win games: a lot of heart, a lot of courage," Bogosian said. "It's not an easy thing to do. They hurt, but the wins feel way better when you win them that way."

If the Wild want to become a playoff team, they have to play like one.

Not once every three games, but on a regular basis.

"That game has to be more consistent and more reliable," Hynes said. "We gotta be ready and committed to play with that intensity level and that work ethic every night."