Wild stay hot, drill Seattle in early four-point game

SEATTLE — It’s been easy to be circumspect about the Wild’s playoff chances this season. Too many points to make up, too many teams to jump — not to mention injuries to key players and long competitive lulls.

But it’s getting more difficult to doubt the Wild, who demolished a Seattle Kraken team that started the night just one point behind Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, 5-2, late Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena.

“I think we’re playing a good style of hockey and we’ve been committed to it for the most part,” coach John Hynes said after his team improved to 7-1-1 since returning from the all-star break on Feb. 7.

“I think the belief from the players, of playing the game that gives us the best chance to win and recognizing what that is, but then also committing to it has been a big difference for us.”

Kirill Kaprizov had two goals and an assist, and Mats Zuccarello finished with four assists as the Wild won back-to-back road games for the first time this season. And if there was any concern Minnesota would lose intensity after a big 4-2 win Friday at Edmonton, it was soon quelled.

Vince Dunn scored on the game’s first shot on goal, a slap shot from the point that glanced off Joel Eriksson Ek’s league before beating Marc-Andre Fleury off the near post. Suddenly, in a game between the ninth- and 10th-place teams in the West, the Wild were down 1-0 lead just 36 seconds into the game.

But from there, it was all downhill for the Kraken.

Matt Boldy scored his third goal in two games, and Fleury stopped 31 of 33 shots — two of them on point-blank breakaway chances — as Minnesota pulled into a virtual tie with St. Louis, two points behind Nashville for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Seattle fell into 12th place, three points behind Minnesota.

“We need every point we can get,” said Marcus Johansson, who tied the game from the right circle early in the first, starting a run of five unanswered goals. “Playing the teams we’re fighting with, obviously the games mean a little more, too. It was kind of one of those four-points games for us. It was a big win.”

Dunn’s goal on a one-timer from the point was the fourth-fastest goal in the Kraken’s brief history, but the Wild almost immediately tilted the ice their way, dominating play until Seattle started a push in the third period.

“I don’t love the start, but maybe earlier in the season things would have been different,” Fleury said. “But I feel like nobody panicked. Nobody stressed about it. (We) just shake it off and kept playing our game and got to our game really quick. We got a big goal not long after.”

That was Johansson’s, which tied the game 1-1 at 4:59 of the first period. Kaprizov scored from behind the net on a two-man advantage at 13:22 to give the Wild a lead that was never seriously threatened.

Jacob Eberle scored to pull the Kraken within 5-2 with 6:11 off the clock in the third period, but it was all over but the shouting by then. The game got progressively chippy as it wore down, and Eriksson Ek took a bad spill after being check into the boards late by Will Borgen.

Eriksson Ek, who leads the Wild with 28 goals, remained on the ice and was seen to by head trainer John Worley, but Hynes said he didn’t anticipate the center missing any time.

“He should be good,” the coach said. “I don’t see anything moving forward there.”

Boldy scored a power play goal on a backhander in the crease just 1:19 into the second period to make it 3-1, then Kaprizov raced into left circle on a rush and beat Joey Daccord to make it 4-1 just more than a minute later.

That was it for Daccord, who was pulled in favor of backup Philipp Grubauer, but the Wild scored again when Dakota Mermis scored from the point while Seattle was scrambling in its own zone after a power play to make it 5-1 at 6:58.

It was Mermis’ third goal of the season, and first since a loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 26.
Next up is a game against Carolina on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center. Then the Wild go on the road for games against the Predators on Thursday in Nashville, and the Blues on Saturday in St. Louis — next up in what will be a string of four-point games for the Wild as the regular-season winds down.

“It’s gonna be fun,” said Johansson, who scored his ninth goal this season, and first since he scored two in a victory over Washington on Jan. 23. “They’re going to be important games and we’re going to have to keep at it.”