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Rookies help Wild to rout Sharks in San Jose

Say this for the Minnesota Wild. They might have missed the postseason for just the second time in 12 seasons, but injuries and all, they were not among the Western Conference’s worst teams in 2023-24.

In fact, they have proven to be much better than the conference’s worst teams.

In their 80th game of the season, the shorthanded Wild hammered the San Jose Sharks, 6-2, at SAP Center on Saturday to improve to 14-3-0 against the six teams below them in the conference standings.

Kirill Kaprizov finished with two goals, raising his season total to 44, and Matt Boldy scored his 28th of the season as the Wild swept their three-game season series with the Sharks, last in the West with a 19-52-9 record.

It was a big night for the Wild’s prospects, as well. Liam Ohgren, called up Wednesday to make his NHL debut this week, earned his first NHL goal and assist, and Jesper Wallstedt made 27 saves for his second NHL victory.

Rookie defenseman Declan Chisholm, claimed off waivers from Winnipeg on Jan. 29, scored his third NHL goal for Minnesota, which plays at Los Angeles on Monday before returning home for its season finale against Seattle on Thursday.

Against the other Western Conference teams that didn’t make the playoffs this season, the Wild are 16-4-2, their only losing record against ninth-place St. Louis (1-1-2). The problem, of course, is the rest of the conference, against which they are a combined 8-18-3.

Minnesota has been without key players at key times all season. They got only 16 games from team captain Jared Spurgeon before he had season-ending surgery in February, and alternate Marcus Foligno had season-ending surgery to repair core muscles on April 2.

On Saturday, the Wild played without forwards Mats Zuccarello and Freddy Gaudreau, who each missed his second game for personal reasons, but it didn’t matter against a San Jose team that has won only five times since Jan. 31.

Jan Rutta and Mario Ferrara scored for the Sharks, and Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 32 shots.

Ohgren, the Wild’s first-round pick in the 2022 entry draft, earned his first NHL point in the first period when he won a puck battle on the boards in the offensive zone that led to Chisholm’s goal from atop the right circle with 3:09 left in the first period. That gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead.

“Ohgren continues to impress,” head coach John Hynes told reporters in San Jose. “I mean, he’s got NHL speed, he’s competitive, he’s got hockey sense, he’s got a good shot.”

Playing in his second NHL game, Ohgren made it 3-1 when he backhanded a rebound past Blackwood at 14:32 of the second period. Veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian retrieved the puck from the net for his new teammate.

Rookie center Marat Khusnutdinov, who signed this winter after completing his Kontinental Hockey League season, earned an assist and was a plus-2 after scoring his first NHL goal on Thursday. Defenseman Brock Faber leads all rookies in time on ice this season, averaging 25 minutes plus, and Marco Rossi’s 21 goals are second to only Chicago’s Connor Bedard.

“It’s really good to see that not only are they getting opportunities to play, but they’re making an impact,” Hynes said.

Kaprizov scored a pair of goals late in the second period, the second after the Wild earned a power play with 36 seconds left. He one-timed a pass from Joel Eriksson Ek for his 44th goal, second in franchise history to the 47 he scored in 2022-23. The goal was his 18th power-play goal this season, a franchise record.

Jonas Brodin finished with two assists, and Kaprizov added one.

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