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Judd Zulgad

Stepping Up

An all-hands-on-deck mentality has Wild’s offense surging in Kirill Kaprizov’s absence.

Hats littered the Xcel Energy Center ice on Sunday afternoon after Wild winger Matt Boldy notched his second career hat trick against the Washington Capitals giving him 22 goals on the season, including five in leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov's five-game absence. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

The Wild already was struggling to score when Jets defenseman Logan Stanley crumpled Kirill Kaprizov to the ice in the third period on March 8 in Winnipeg. The news that the Wild’s best player would miss three-to-four weeks because a lower-body injury created questions about who would score now that the star winger was out?

In the 11 games before Kaprizov’s injury, the left winger had accounted for eight of the Wild’s 25 goals during a stretch in which they went 9-0-2. Kaprizov had 39 goals and 74 points in 65 games. He was the Wild’s offense.

So what now?

Matt Boldy sets up new linemate Marcus Johansson for an early Minnesota lead over Boston on Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

The latest answer came Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center as winger Matt Boldy recorded a hat trick in a 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals. That gave the Wild 24 goals during a five-game stretch in which they are 3-1-1 and have improved to 12-1-3 since coming out of the All-Star Break and their bye week with a 1-4-1 record that had many wondering if Minnesota would make the playoffs.

If you’re doing the math, the Wild were averaging 2.3 goals per game in the stretch before their best player got hurt. In the five games without him, they are averaging 4.8 goals. Boldy, long encouraged to shoot more and pass less, has five goals in those five games.

Trade-deadline acquisitions Marcus Johansson, who has had great chemistry with Boldy, has two goals and seven points and Oskar Sundqvist has two goals and three points. Even big winger Ryan Reaves, who wasn’t obtained to score goals and didn’t get his first of the season until Feb. 28 against the Islanders, has three goals and five points in his last five.

No one is going to say the Wild doesn’t miss Kaprizov, but guys who might have been waiting around for him to score goals, have realized they must do more.

“I think you look at our lineup, up and down the lineup,” Reaves said. “Everybody is contributing in different ways. If you look at Kirill, he leads our team in points, but he goes to the dirty areas. He’s not afraid to get dirty, not afraid to get in the corners, and bump a body once in a while. When you’ve got a guy like that doing it, then it kind of trickles down to the whole lineup and then we’ve got some big bodies that just like to play that game. Those guys are contributing, too, so it’s just kind of a collective effort right now.”

Wild winger Oskar Sundqvist celebrates his second goal in a Minnesota sweater since his March 3 acquisition from the Detroit Red Wings in the third period of Saturday’s loss to the Bruins. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Evason wanted to make it clear, even after Boldy’s big day, that the “collective effort” Reaves is talking about is emphasized.

“The team has stepped up, not just a few guys,” he said. “Everybody. I don’t think they sat in there and went, ‘Guys, we have to score now.’ They always try to score. With his absence they all know that there’s a little extra push that needed to be had because literally he’s playing half the game so there’s opportunities for people, too. People have been able to step up, but I think (that means) people being the entire Minnesota Wild hockey team.”

The Wild also are beginning to get healthy. Their 14-game point streak came to an end on Saturday in St. Paul with a 5-2 loss to the NHL-leading Boston Bruins. Minnesota had two goals wiped out by offsides reviews and the Bruins added an empty-net goal to increase their margin of victory. There was no hangover from that loss on Sunday against a Capitals team that looks as if it will miss the playoffs.

It was a tremendous help that defensemen Jake Middleton and Jonas Brodin returned after absences and enabled Evason to scratch Calen Addison and veteran Jon Merrill after they formed the third defensive pairing against the Bruins.

Middleton, acquired from the Sharks at the 2022 trade deadline, has proven to be a tremendous fit on the top pairing with Jared Spurgeon. Brodin, who returned for six games in February after sitting out two, had missed 12 more after presumably re-injuring himself. Brodin’s extended absence this time was probably due to the fact that the Wild wanted to make sure his lower-body injury healed this time.

Winger Brandon Duhaime also returned against the Capitals and scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. Winger Marcus Foligno could be in the lineup before the week is out and the Wild are hoping to get another trade-deadline pickup, winger Gustav Nyquist, back from a shoulder injury in time for the postseason.

Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren can only watch as Brandon Duhaime’s eventual game winner settles into the Washington net on Sunday afternoon. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Then there is Kaprizov. The Wild might be winning without him right now — Minnesota was a point behind Dallas for the Central Division lead after Sunday’s games — but if this team has any shot at making a deep run into the postseason, No. 97 will have to be flying around the ice.

But will other now more confident players be less reliant on Kaprizov being the guy that they expect to bail them out?

“He’s going to score and we’re going to need him to score for sure,” Reaves said. “When the playoffs start, Kirill is going to start getting checking lines, especially on the road and that’s when the rest of the guys need to step up. I think we talked about this last little stretch. 

“It’s got to be a playoff atmosphere in the room, on the ice for us. We’ve got to start putting a playoff type game onto the ice every night because it’s hard to just float into the playoffs and say we’re going to amp it up. That’s not how it works. I think right now we’re starting to figure that out and put good games together.”

Kaprizov’s return should only help.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Mackey and Judd podcast and also Judd’s Hockey Show for SKOR North. Judd covered the Vikings from 2005 to 2010 for the Star Tribune before joining SKOR North.

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