NHL: Wild hot on the road, top Maple Leafs
TORONTO -- With a tough opponent in the New York Islanders on deck, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter admitted it was tough to remain focused on Monday night's contest with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.
TORONTO - With a tough opponent in the New York Islanders on deck, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter admitted it was tough to remain focused on Monday night’s contest with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.
Minnesota right winger Thomas Vanek scored a goal and added an assist as the Wild squeezed out a 2-1 victory over the Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
“These games are kind of tough,” said Suter, who had an assist in the win. “You’re looking ahead; we’ve got a really good squad (today) that we’ve got to go against. For us to come in here and find a way, it wasn’t pretty; it wasn’t pretty at all, but we stuck with it, and we came out with the win.”
Forward Charlie Coyle had the other Wild goal while Devan Dubnyk turned aside 35 shots for his 32nd win of the season.
The Wild victory establishes a franchise best for road wins (21) and points (44). Monday night was Minnesota’s franchise-high ninth consecutive road win. The Wild (41-25-7) entered the game with a one-point lead on the Winnipeg Jets for the first wild-card seed in the Western Conference.
Wild coach Mike Yeo pointed to a second-period penalty kill as the turning point in the win. With Vanek in the box for slashing, Erik Haula took a tripping minor, giving the Leafs a two-man advantage for 18 seconds.
“It starts with goaltending first and foremost and with that, special teams. You look at tonight, that penalty kill in the second period was certainly a key moment in the game,” said Yeo. “I think a huge part of it for us has been our depth. We’ve had different contributions from different guys.
“Tonight, two key goals from our third line. I think that speaks to the depth that we have.”
Toronto (27-41-6) has lost six straight and they don’t have a regulation win since March 3 (1-8-1).
Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner had the lone Toronto goal while goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves in the loss.
“It was a good hockey game. We had some chances to tie it. We made a couple mistakes again they capitalized on, said Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul. “They’re a really good team. They’re going to be successful.”
Coyle opened the scoring with 1:02 remaining in the first period, jamming home the rebound off Vanek’s shot for his 11th of the season. Vanek now has points in eight straight games while Coyle has eight points in his last nine games.
“I don’t really worry about it too much,” said Vanek of the streak. “For me, it’s nice that I have a line. I thought we couldn’t really generate in the (offensive) zone because our (defense) had to make sure to stay on the blue line ‘cause they were sending one, two, three guys.
“That’s tough to play, especially the way we like to play. At the end, we got the two points so we can’t be too sad about that.”
Vanek made it a 2-0 lead at 9:08 of the third, beating Bernier five-hole with a wrist shot for his 19th of the season.
Gardiner poked home the loose puck off a Lupul shot for his fourth of the season at 13:36.
“It would’ve been nice to get the shutout, but he made a pretty good shot there. The puck was on end and it just got through (my legs) and they poked it in,” said Dubnyk. “I was sure we were going to hang on and we always do a good job of that.”
Dubnyk had lost his only two starts against the Leafs, allowing 11 goals on 56 shots entering Monday’s action. The start was Dubnyk’s 32nd consecutive. The 28-year-old is now 23-6-1 with a 1.74 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage since joining the Wild.
“I didn’t have my best game here last year, at the beginning of the year, and I certainly remember that one,” said Dubnyk of a 6-5 overtime loss on Oct. 12, 2013 while a member of the Edmonton Oilers. “That one hurt a little more than most. This is my first time back so any time you can come out on the big stage and be able to get a win like that is exciting.”
NOTES: Leafs D Eric Brewer, who played his 1,000th NHL game Monday, was honored during a pregame ceremony. ... Minnesota C Ryan Carter was cleared for contact, but missed his 21st game due to a separated AC joint in his shoulder. ... Leafs C Nazem Kadri served the third game of his four-game suspension for his elbow to the head of Edmonton Oilers RW Matt Fraser on March 16. Minnesota 2, Toronto 1
Minnesota 1 0 1- 2
Toronto 0 0 1- 1
First Period-1, Minnesota, Coyle 11 (Vanek) 18:58.
Third Period-2, Minnesota, Vanek 19 (Suter, Fontaine) 9:08. 3, Toronto, Gardiner 4 (Lupul) 13:36.
Shots on Goal-Minnesota 11-16-5-32. Toronto 8-10-18-36.
Power-play opportunities-Minnesota 0 of 3. Toronto 0 of 4.
Goalies-Minnesota Dubnyk 32-11-3 (36 shots-35 saves). Toronto Bernier 20-26-6 (32-30).
A-18,366 (18,819). T-2:31.