ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild are heading into the All-Star break atop the Western Conference, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down.
Nino Niederreiter had a goal and two assists, Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves and the Wild defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-1 on Thursday night.
Mikael Granlund added a goal and an assist, and Erik Haula, Tyler Graovac and Mikko Koivu also scored for the Wild, who are 21-3-2 in their last 26 games. Heading into the break with 69 points, Minnesota trails Washington by three in the race for the league’s best record.
Before this year, the latest the Wild had led the Western Conference was in 2011, when they were on top in mid-December.
“I personally haven’t been in a situation like that in a long time,” Niederreiter said. “It’s fun to be in the hunted seat.”
Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 21st goal for the Blues, who lost for the fourth time in five games. Carter Hutton stopped 25 of 30 shots before being pulled early in the third period.
“We just don’t seem to handle the good stuff very well,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team had posted a shutout in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. “To come back and play the way we did today is disappointing. It’s too much of a recurring theme here.”
Minnesota’s offense has carried the Wild through this hot stretch. The Wild scored five goals for the 12th time in 48 games this year. They did it just 11 times all of last year. And they’ve done it with balance. Haula became Minnesota eighth player with at least 10 goals on the season, the most in the NHL.
“It’s really big for us that we have four really good lines,” said Haula, one of 12 Wild players to register a point on the night. “I think we’ve been really good at picking each other up. Even if it’s not going for somebody, you don’t have that pressure this year.”
Haula and Tarasenko traded goals early in the second period before Graovac put Minnesota ahead for good with a deflection of a centering pass by Niederreiter. The Wild then put it away with a three-goal flurry that spanned the second intermission.
Koivu scored a power-play goal with 11 seconds left in the second period, chipping a rebound over a sprawled Hutton. Then, less than 2 minutes into the third period, Niederreiter beat him with a long, unscreened wrist shot.
Less than a minute later, Hutton got out of position on a wraparound attempt by Jason Zucker, leading to an easy tap-in for Granlund.
It all added up to another bad loss for the Blues who have given up 23 goals in their last four defeats.
“We’ve got a couple days to really look in the mirror,” St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We’re going to have to because we play a lot of hockey in the second half and we can’t afford situations like this.”
Meanwhile, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who’s heading to Los Angeles to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, was more than impressed with the players who are staying home over the break.
“I thought that was our most complete game in a long time,” Boudreau said. “I think every line got a goal today. It’s a different kind of team than I’ve had in the past, but it’s a very enjoyable one to coach.”