Minnesota Wild slug Ottawa Senators, snap skid

By Brian Halverson, The Sports Xchange  |  March 31, 2017 at 6:50 AM
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SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- When Minnesota Wild winger Nino Niederreiter reached the 20-goal plateau for the third straight season on Feb. 27, he never expected to still be sitting on 20 goals 16 games later.

Yet there he was as the Wild prepared to host the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Niederreiter scored twice, and rookie Joel Eriksson Ek picked up his third goal of the season in his first NHL game since November, and the Wild snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-1 win over the Senators at Xcel Energy Center.

"Obviously when you don't score as a potentially top goal-scorer, you get frustrated and it creeps in your game and it's tough on you mentally," Niederreiter said. "And obviously when the first one gets in, you start feeling loose again and then it's just a matter of time to get the next one."

Minnesota goaltender Alex Stalock, who was called up from AHL Iowa on Wednesday, finished 18 saves to pick up his first NHL victory since a Jan. 12, 2016, win for San Jose at Winnipeg.

With Wild No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk backing him up, the Minnesota native from nearby South St. Paul saw his first NHL game action since Feb. 11, 2016, for the Sharks.

"I was just actually saying that to Doobs, I don't know when my last win was in this league," Stalock said. "It's been a while and the guys made it easy tonight. I just made the routine saves. It was fun to be a part of again."

Chris Stewart added a pair of assists for Minnesota (45-24-8), which also got goals from Matt Dumba and Jason Pominville.

Mike Hoffman scored Ottawa's lone goal, and goaltender Craig Anderson made 21 saves for the Senators.

Second-place Ottawa (41-26-9) saw its lead over the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs slip to two points in the Atlantic Division. The fourth-place Boston Bruins are a point behind Toronto.

"I think we've done a really good job all year of setting ourselves up to put ourselves in the position that we're in and right now we're at where we're at," Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. "So we've got to find it within our room and we will. We've found ways to bounce back all year."

The teams traded goals late in the first period with the Senators getting on the board first on Hoffman's 23rd goal of the season. Hoffman's one-timer from the right faceoff dot off a cross-ice feed from Mark Stone beat Stalock at the 16:20 mark.

Just 47 seconds later, Niederreiter, who had just stepped out of the penalty box when Hoffman scored, tied the game with his 21st of the season. Niederreiter banged home a rebound of a Jonas Brodin shot that handcuffed Anderson after Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf got a stick on it.

"I think any slump affects anybody's overall game," Boudreau said. "Look at anybody, they start trying to do things that they're not used to doing. It weighs in on their mind and all of these things. When he's playing physical and getting involved in the game, he's really good. When he's not and playing perimeter, not too much happens."

Niederreiter's second of the game at the 7:08 mark of the second on a setup by center Eric Staal broke a 1-1 tie after one period. Niederreiter received Staal's pass in the low slot before slipping a backhand shot behind Anderson for his 22nd goal of the season.

With the assist, Staal has six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in a six-game point streak and 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) in his last 12 games.

"It was a hard-fought first period but then I think after that, I think the minute they got that second goal there, we didn't look good after," Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said. "We started to scatter around, made those two mistakes -- two goals we gave away in the second."

Late in the period, Eriksson Ek, just recalled Tuesday from Farjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League, scored his third goal of the season to make it 3-1 when he took Charlie Coyle's pass and rang a shot off the far post and in.

Minnesota's 2015 first-round pick, the 20-year-old Eriksson Ek registered two goals and three assists in nine games for the Wild to start the season before he was returned to Sweden in November.

Eriksson Ek was inserted into the Minnesota lineup for left winger Zach Parise, who suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday's loss to the Capitals and did not play.

The Senators suffered a blow to their lineup shortly before the game when defenseman Erik Karlsson was scratched due to a shot-blocking injury suffered in Ottawa's loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday. Karlsson, who saw limited action late in that game and in overtime, saw his consecutive games streak end at 324.

Ottawa's bench was further depleted when it lost left winger Zach Smith to an upper-body injury in the first period.

"You don't want to use it as a crutch, but you take Erik out -- not only our best player but arguably the best player in the world -- and it hurts," Ottawa winger Bobby Ryan said. "You can't replace that. You've got to do it by committee, and we failed to meet that challenge."

Dumba and Pominville scored third-period goals. Pominville's 13th goal of the season came in his 900th NHL game.

NOTES:

-- With D Erik Karlsson out of the lineup, D Jyrki Jokipakka made his debut in an Ottawa uniform. Jokipakka was acquired by the Senators, along with a conditional second-round pick, from Calgary on March 1 in exchange for Curtis Lazar and Michael Kostka.

-- Wild G Darcy Kuemper was a healthy scratch as was D Nate Prosser and C Jordan Schroeder.

-- Ottawa LW Alex Burrows was scratched due to an upper-body injury and was replaced by LW Viktor Stalberg, who returned to the lineup after a two-game injury absence. D Marc Methot missed a third straight game with a finger injury and C Christopher DiDomenico also sat out for the Senators.

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