ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There's still plenty of snow on the ground, and this abbreviated NHL season is only at the halfway mark. But for the Minnesota Wild, with a division rival like the Vancouver Canucks in town, it felt like the right time to make a statement about playoff-readiness.
Zach Parise scored two goals -- his team-leading 10th and 11th of the season -- and the Wild beat the Canucks 4-2, putting them in a tie atop the Northwest Division. Parise scored in the first and third periods, and he came close to completing the hat trick into an empty net.
"These guys it seems like have had a stranglehold on this division for a long time," said Parise of the Canucks, who have won five of the last six Northwest titles. "We want to show that we can be up there too. Granted, it's only halfway through the season, but I think we responded well against a very good team."
The Canucks rallied to within a goal late after trailing 3-0, but they saw their winless streak grow to four games (0-2-2).
"It didn't start the way we wanted, and obviously didn't finish the way we wanted," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault after his power play continued to struggle, going 0-for-4 on Sunday. "They didn't generate much again, and we're going to have to find solutions."
Minnesota, despite being outshot and having to kill two penalties in the opening 20 minutes, emerged from the first period with a 2-0 lead.
Parise scored his 10th of the year off a feed from captain Mikko Koivu just 24 seconds into the game, and rookie Jason Zucker tipped in a cross-ice pass from Matt Cullen late in the period. It was the fourth goal of the season for Zucker, who has been a surprising source of offense for the Wild after being called up from the team's minor league affiliate in Houston on Valentine's Day.
"Now it's really ramping up, knowing some teams didn't start the way they wanted and some teams started way better than they thought they would," Zucker said. "Everyone right now is thinking they've got to get into that playoff picture. There's not a lot of wiggle room there."
The opening period was also a reminder of the bad blood between the rivals, which may dissipate somewhat when they move to new divisions next season. At one point, the Wild had five players crammed into the penalty box after a scuffle in front of the Vancouver net was followed in quick succession by a full-on fight between Tom Sestito of the Canucks and Minnesota tough guy Mike Rupp.
"I love the way we started the game. A couple guys were going at Mikko, going at our captain and we responded," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "This is a group of guys that cares about each other. They stick up for each other and there was a lot of emotion that we brought into this game."
The Wild built a three-goal lead early in the second period when defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored on a power-play slap shot after Vancouver's Mason Raymond was sent off for tripping.
The Canucks clawed their way back into the game via Chris Higgins' seventh goal of the season midway through the second period, and a controversial Henrik Sedin goal early in the third. Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom made a blocker save on the Canucks' initial shot, only to see the puck bounce high in the air, then deflect off Sedin's leg and into the net. After a video review, the goal was allowed to stand. It was the continuation of a trend for Sedin, who now has 10 goals and 46 assists in 71 career games versus the Wild.
Backstrom finished with 25 saves for the Wild, who host the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. Cory Schneider had 28 saves for the Canucks, who visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. He said the Wild's final goal, in which Parise poked a puck between the goalie's leg and the goalpost, was typical of the Wild's top scorer.
"I felt like I had it sealed and he just out-muscled me and jammed it in and it somehow snuck over the line," Schneider said, after his team fell to the Wild for just the third time in their last 12 meetings. "He gets a lot of goals that way, just hacking and whacking."
NOTES: Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard was a healthy scratch Sunday for the second consecutive game and just the third time this season. Bouchard, who missed all but one game of the 2009-10 season and more than half of last season due to concussion symptoms, has two goals and three assists for the Wild in 20 games this season. ... While the Wild were playing in Nashville on Saturday night, the Canucks were already in St. Paul, where a few Vancouver players attended the championship game of the renowned Minnesota State Boys' High School Hockey Tournament. Edina defeated Hill-Murray 4-2 before an overflow crowd of more than 19,000. ... Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert missed his first game of the season, scratched due to illness. ... Canucks center Jordan Schroeder, who entered the night with just one point in Vancouver's past 12 games, reportedly is in the team's doghouse due to the offensive drought. However, he played Sunday in his home state. Schroeder, who skated for the University of Minnesota for two seasons, played just his second NHL game in the state.