Cullen, Ennis lead Wild to 5-3 win over Islanders
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
By VIN A. CHERWOO
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) Minnesota knows it needs to play better on the road to strengthen its push for a playoff spot. The Wild also want to do a better job of holding third-period leads than they have lately.
They accomplished both Monday against the New York Islanders.
Matt Cullen and Tyler Ennis scored in Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild beat the Islanders 5-3. Jason Zucker added two goals, Joel Eriksson Ek also scored, and Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 shots as Minnesota improved to 4-1-2 in its past seven games.
The Wild just lost three of five on their homestand, including twice when they gave up the tying goal in the third period before falling after regulation.
"Having the lead in the second and keeping it is really good for us," Zucker said.
The win snapped Minnesota's brief two-game skid (0-1-1) and got its three-game, five-day trip to New York off on a winning note. The Wild, who have lost seven of their past 11 on the road, play back-to-back against New Jersey and the Rangers later in the week.
"Our record isn't the way we want on the road this year, so we've been trying to focus on that," Zucker said. "It's a big win for us."
Minnesota, which is fifth in the Central Division but holds the second wild card in the Western Conference, pulled one point behind Dallas and St. Louis.
New York began the day tied with idle Carolina with 64 points, but held the second wild-card spot in the East due to more regulation/overtime wins. However, the Hurricanes now hold the tiebreaker due to a game in hand on the Islanders.
Zucker beat Halak on the blocker side with a one-timer for his second of the game and 25th of the season with 3:22 remaining to push the Wild's lead to 5-3.
New York outshot Minnesota 17-9 in the third, including skating with a 6-on-4 advantage over the final 1:23 with Halak pulled on a power play but couldn't get anything past Dubnyk.
"We played a good game, we played hard," Islanders coach Doug Weight said. "But not good enough."
Trailing 2-1 near the midpoint of the second period, the Wild went ahead with three goals in a 4:12 span.
Cullen tied it as he skated in on a breakaway and beat Halak into the top right corner for his sixth at 9:54. Zucker gave the Wild their second lead of the game with a one-timer with 7:43 remaining. Ennis made it 4-2 with his eighth with 5:54 left.
Fritz pulled the Islanders within one with his first NHL goal with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the middle period.
Lee had given New York a 2-1 lead at 1:57 of the second as he tipped Thomas Hickey's shot from the left slot out of the air and down past Dubnyk. It was Lee's 30th of the season, tying him with John Tavares for the team lead and making him the sixth 30-goal scorer in the NHL this season.
It was the same way Zucker scored against Anaheim in the Wild's shootout loss on Saturday.
"It's a nice play, a difficult tip for that guy to make and that's why you put pucks to the net," Dubnyk said. "You saw it last game for us."
The Wild got on the scoreboard first as Charlie Coyle's rebound attempt of his own shot deflected off Eriksson Ek's skate and in 7:02 into the game. It was Eriksson Ek's second goal of the season, and first since opening night.
"That's hockey," Eriksson Ek said. "That's how it is, sometimes it bounces your way."
The Islanders tied it with 45 seconds left in the first as Johnston deflected Johnny Boychuk's slap shot from the right point past Dubnyk. It was Johnson's third goal in 10 games with New York after having three in 38 games with Bridgeport of the AHL.
NOTES: Zucker has 10 goals and three assists in his past 16 games. ... Ennis had his third multipoint game of the season, and first since he had two assists against Florida on Jan. 2. ... The Wild swept the seasons series, also winning 6-4 at home on Oct. 26. ... Eriksson Ek's goal ended the Islanders' shutout streak at 140:15, going back to the third period of a 4-1 loss to Columbus last Tuesday night. New York had back-to-back shutouts against the Rangers on Thursday and at Carolina on Friday. ... Islanders placed G Thomas Greiss on IR, retroactive to Friday, and called up G Christopher Gibson from Bridgeport of the AHL to be Halak's backup. ... Halak has appeared in 23 of the Islanders' past 27 games, including 22 starts. He is 9-11-3 in that stretch.
Wild: At New Jersey on Thursday night.
Islanders: At Toronto on Thursday night to open a stretch of three straight road games.
Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Updated February 19, 2018