Wild take heart in next-man-up victory

SUNRISE, FLA. – As if getting whisked into action off the bench halfway through a game wasn't enough of a test, the scoreboard was also deceptively challenging for Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson.

He inherited the proverbial worst lead in hockey, the Wild ahead of the Panthers by three goals at 4-1 when Gustavsson replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Fleury was clipped behind the net in the first period and later pulled himself due to injury.

"It feels like it almost can only go downwards after that," Gustavsson said. "You feel really good, but it's very few margins to make it a very tight game."

Case in point: what happened Friday night.

Florida twice shrunk its deficit to two before finally getting it down to a single goal to tee off a white-knuckle finish for the Wild, who persevered 6-4 after an empty-netter from Ryan Hartman to give them a split going into their road trip finale on Sunday at Carolina.

From Gustavsson's pinch-hit performance to the record display by the power play, this was far from a conventional win for the Wild.

But that might have made it mean even more to them.

"When it's not going right for us, it's frustrating," defenseman Zach Bogosian said. "But I think having that resilience and having that mental focus is something you gotta really zone in on when you're going through tough times."

This was only the Wild's third victory in their last 12 games, and they achieved it with one of their gutsiest efforts of the season.

Not only did they lose Fleury to an upper-body injury after he was hit by Will Lockwood, who was suspended three games for goaltender interference Saturday, forward Connor Dewar left with a lower-body injury. Dewar was placed on injured reserve, and the Wild called up forward Jake Lucchini and goalie Jesper Wallstedt from the minors; they returned defenseman Daemon Hunt to Iowa in the American Hockey League.

The Wild were also playing Friday without Frederick Gaudreau, who was hurt in the 7-3 mismatch at Tampa Bay on Thursday. But adversity is nothing new for them.

"That next-man-up mentality was big," forward Brandon Duhaime said.

Their penalty kill went 4-for-4, with Hartman stepping in for Gaudreau in that role.

Kirill Kaprizov had two of the power play's five goals, which matched the franchise record, and Gustavsson stopped 21 shots in relief, including 14 in a row after coach John Hynes called a timeout (his second in as many games) at 5-4 to tell the Wild this was the time they needed to have poise and confidence.

"[Gustavsson] was solid when we needed him to be solid the most," Hynes said.

The result netted the Wild much-needed points in the standings, but it also revealed more of who they are and what they're capable of on the ice.

"Really liked the intensity level that we played with," Hynes said, "combined with the focus level to find a way to win the game when it was an emotional game."