NEWARK, N.J. — At this point the Minnesota Wild appear to be willing to try just about anything to remedy the slow starts that have plagued them this season.
Even sit on a bus for 2½ hours in the middle of New York City rush hour. Even arrive at the arena roughly 34 minutes before puck drop. Even start a game a half-hour later than originally scheduled.
The team bus left the Wild hotel in Manhattan at approximately 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. It didn’t pull into the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., until 6:26 p.m. Wednesday night.
A closure of the Holland Tunnel backed up traffic across large chunks of New York City, In turn, what was supposed to be a 10-mile trek turned into a journey Wild players won’t soon forget.
“We took a nice, beautiful, scenic route in New York City,” Marcus Foligno joked. “It was awesome. We had to show (Kirill Kaprizov) a little more. The young guys really took it in.”
“No, that was interesting,” added Foligno, who said the players literally played “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” while stuck in traffic “I’ve been late to games in a sense of maybe a snowstorm or something like that. That was different. We had a little bit of a dance party as we got closer and a police escort was on the way, so the boys were in a light mood.”
Maybe the funniest part of the whole night is that the police escort might’ve actually slowed the Wild down.
“We got close here about 10 minutes away and then we pulled over on the side of the road waiting for them when we could have just probably came here,” Foligno said with a laugh. “As soon as we got the police escort, there was no one on the road.”
When the Wild finally arrived and raced to the locker room, the game had already been delayed. They had to quickly change and take the ice for warmups. No pregame routine.
All of it seemed like a recipe for disaster, so naturally the Wild responded with a stellar opening 20 minutes before eking out a 3-2 shootout win over the Devils. That helped the Wild complete a successful 1-1-1 road trip.
“A little different today. Not going to lie,” Nico Sturm said. “It is what it is. At some point on the bus we just accepted the fact that that’s how it was going to be. Yeah. We came out pretty good.”
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Wild looked riled up in the first period. After all, they had been stuck on a bus for 2½ hours leading up to the game.
It translated on the ice as Ryan Hartman pushed the Wild in front 1-0 with a deflection midway through the first period. It got better from there for the Wild as Sturm increased the lead to 2-0 with a shorthanded goal just before the first period came to a close.
“We loved our start. Finally,” coach Dean Evason said. “We didn’t love it too much after that because we didn’t manage the game again. We’ve talked about doing the right things and learning to play with success or deal with success. And we didn’t deal with it again tonight.”
That forced Cam Talbot to stand on his head for prolonged stretches the rest of the way.
After looking sharp early on, tracking to the puck to perfection while also limiting his rebounds, Talbot made a couple of huge saves in the second period with the Wild looking a little sluggish. His best save came on winger Jimmy Vesey early in the frame and seemed to give him some swagger.
In the third period, winger Pavel Zach helped the Devils cut into the deficit to 2-1 early with a top-shelf snipe.
That made things very interesting down the stretch, and while the Wild managed to kill 68 seconds of a 5-on-3, they couldn’t keep the Devils from tying the game. In the final minute, center Yegor Sharangovich leveled the score at 2-2 by burying a bouncing puck in front of Talbot.
That forced overtime, then a shootout, and in the end the Wild emerged with a well-deserved win. Fittingly, after Kevin Fiala converted on his shootout attempt, Talbot made the final save of the game to secure the win.
“We just kind of grinded that out,” Talbot said. “The circumstances weren’t ideal coming into tonight obviously. Not a ton of time to prepare. But give our guys a ton of credit. We came out and we got a couple (of goals) early. We bent a little at the end there. Ultimately came out with the two points, which is most important.”