Jordan Greenway on Friday pumped his fist and Luke Kunin held out his arms waiting for his teammates to join him. They celebrated like kids after performing like seasoned veterans.
With the Minnesota Wild outside a playoff position with little margin for error, the kid line of Kunin, Greenway and Ryan Donato pumped in two crucial goals to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions Washington Capital s 2-1.
Minnesota snapped a two-game skid and leapfrogged the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche to move into the second wild-card spot in a competitive Western Conference race.
“When we have the focus that we did tonight, the confidence, the commitment, I think we can do a lot of good things and we can beat anyone,” Greenway said. “Whether it’s Washington or whoever, I think we can beat them.”
Minnesota fed off the confidence of the second line of 21 and 22-year-olds to hand the Capitals their second consecutive loss.
Devan Dubnyk made 21 saves, but more impressive was the Wild holding Washington to 22 shots a game after they put up 58 on NHL-leading Tampa Bay.
“That was just a playoff game,” Dubnyk said. “The focus was there.”
Donato — acquired from Boston last month — was the best player on the ice for much of the night and assisted on Greenway’s goal in the first period and Kunin’s go-ahead goal with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third.
Coach Bruce Boudreau believes having three young players on a line together gets rid of the expectation to pass to a veteran, and this mix is working lately.
“We’re learning from each other,” Donato said. “I think we’re starting to get each other’s habits, where we’re going to be on the ice, where the other guys are going to be, where they like to pass to. Being able to learn with each other, it makes you feel comfortable on the ice. You don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong.”
It was not a masterpiece, but Minnesota needed two points in any way possible.
Returning to face the team who gave him his start in the NHL, Boudreau knew full well that with only two games on Friday night, the Wild were the only ones who could gain ground after getting some help from a Coyotes loss on Thursday.
Remembering his team’s recent roller-coaster play, Boudreau said that the victory only means “temporarily we’re in a playoff spot.”
The Capitals are in a good spot atop the Metropolitan Division, but have now lost 4-6. They missed an opportunity to add to their division lead and still lead the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins by four points.
“We didn’t play our game at all,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We knew they were going to play desperate — they need points as we do — but I think the sense of urgency was on their side, not on our side.”
Despite losing seven of their previous nine games, the Wild remain in control of their playoff hopes with seven games remaining.
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