Though his coach wanted to emphasize the positive, Jason Zucker wasn't completely buying in. While Bruce Boudreau was pleased with how the Wild played in their third consecutive loss Wednesday, the winger couldn't get past the fact that the results weren't coming.
"We need to bear down and get one of these wins and go from there," Zucker said. "We need to be better. We need to go in to Montreal and play a good game."
The Wild heard that plea, putting together one of their most complete games in the past few weeks to earn a 3-0 victory over Montreal at Bell Centre. Only 24 hours after an outstanding effort gained nothing in a loss at Toronto, the Wild summoned a consistent supply of energy, focus and grit to end the Canadiens' three-game win streak.
Zucker, who scored both Wild goals in Wednesday's 4-2 loss at Toronto, again supplied all the scoring. He scored three third-period goals to spoil the perfect NHL record of Montreal goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who had won his first five league starts. With the Wild short-handed, Zucker split the Canadiens' defense and finished with a pretty backhand at two minutes, 46 seconds, then tipped in Nino Niederreiter's shot at 11:23.
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The victory was the second in six games for the Wild, who ended their longest losing streak of the season. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk made 41 saves, while Lindgren stopped 32 shots.
For the third time in three games, the Wild again caught an opponent with a diminished lineup. The Canadiens announced just before the game that two of their top scorers – forward Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Shea Weber – would not play. Drouin suffered an upper-body injury Tuesday against Vegas, and Weber sustained a lower-body injury in Wednesday's practice.
Boudreau kept his team at the hotel Thursday morning to rest its legs following a wrenching loss and a late-night flight. Though the Wild had faced the Canadiens only a week before, the coach noted how dramatically they had improved in that short time. Montreal had not lost since an inept 6-3 defeat at Xcel Energy Center, and one of its victories was a road shutout of Chicago.
"They had their scoring woes at the beginning of the year," Boudreau said. "Now, they're going to the net, getting rebounds, tipping pucks in and scoring goals. They beat three really good hockey clubs, and we'd better have our skating legs ready."
The Wild took that to heart in the first period. They played with energy and precision, ringing up six shots on goal before the Canadiens got their first at 4:36.
Neither team could score, though both generated some quality chances. Tyler Ennis made a slick move to ditch his man and pop loose for a breakaway, but his shot struck the left goalpost. Zucker got an open look from the slot, too, but the Wild could not get any of their 13 first-period shots past Lindgren.
Dubnyk was just as strong at the other end. In a fast, well-played game of end-to-end hockey, the teams took turns controlling the play. Montreal appeared to score at 6:21 of the first, but officials ruled that Karl Alzner's stick was above the crossbar when he batted the puck past Dubnyk.
The Canadiens got the better chances through much of the second period, outshooting the Wild 14-2 through the first 10 minutes. Dubnyk was battered but did not yield, and Lindgren was equally sharp.
The Wild put themselves in a difficult situation when Mikko Koivu was penalized for hooking at 1:11 of the third period. Zucker responded with his third career short-handed goal; about nine minutes later, he stood his ground in front of the net to score on the tip.
The Canadiens appeared to score at 15:00 of the third when Charles Hudon stuffed in a rebound, but officials overturned the goal because of goaltender interference.