ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Thomas Vanek has begun to give the Minnesota Wild the production they signed him for, after struggling through an injury-influenced first season with the team.
With some speed, power and finesse, Vanek’s skills were on full display in a victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
Vanek scored twice during a four-goal frenzy in the second period by the Wild on their way to beating the Jets 5-3 on Tuesday night.
“I feel good about my game. This whole game, I think sometimes we take it too serious, so we’ve got to have fun,” Vanek said. “Obviously you have to work hard, but when guys like coming to the rink on this team, good things can happen.”
Nino Niederreiter scored first for Minnesota, and Erik Haula and Chris Porter complemented Vanek with goals in the second period as Winnipeg pulled goalie Ondrej Pavelec after falling behind by three. Pavelec stopped only eight of the 12 shots on net against him.
Bryan Little scored twice and Blake Wheeler added a power-play goal to stop a special-teams skid, but the Jets started a four-game road trip through the rugged Central Division in rough fashion.
“What do you want me to say? We gave up some chances, and they scored on them,” Little said. “Can’t rely on our goalies to make those kinds of saves for us like that.”
Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves for his NHL-leading ninth victory for the Wild, who improved to 7-1 at home.
With the Central Division stacked again and room for only five teams to make the playoffs in this post-realignment system, even these November games are critical for rivals like the Jets and Wild.
Without sparkplug and scoring leader Zach Parise for at least their upcoming four-game road trip due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the Wild need Vanek to produce as much as ever.
Vanek’s first goal was on a breakaway slap shot off a shrewd pass from Christian Folin that helped Vanek speed past Jets defensemen Mark Stuart and Paul Postma.
“He has a great shot. He does that every day in practice. So it’s not a big surprise for us when it happens,” Folin said.
Just 89 seconds later, and 11 seconds into a Jets power play, Haula broke loose on another Jets breakdown and sent the puck into the upper corner of the net on Pavelec’s blocker side, the same spot Vanek used.
“It’s always nice when you get goals back-to-back. It really creates momentum and gets everyone fired up, gets the crowd fired up,” Haula said. “The game’s really easier when everyone’s really into it, and we just kept it going from there, which was awesome.”
Then came the finesse score by Vanek, who faked a shot from the left wing and lifted his stick over Postma in one slick motion to snag the puck and snap it past Pavelec.
Michael Hutchinson relieved Pavelec and gave up Porter’s tip-in a few minutes later, the first goal by Porter with the Wild.
Vanek was playing so well that coach Mike Yeo moved him up to the second line with Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville, two Wild forwards who could use a boost.
Little scored his team-leading eighth goal with 7:20 left, knocking in his own rebound to give the Jets some late hope, but there wasn’t enough time left to overcome those defensive lapses earlier in the game.
“I don’t know why it took us to be down 5-1 to turn it on like that,” Little said.
Wheeler’s goal was the first by the Jets on the power play in five games, a skid of 13 straight opportunities without one. Coach Paul Maurice answered flippantly when asked if the Jets could build on their third period.
“We’ll build on our first two periods,” Maurice said. “That’s where we’ve got to get better.”
NOTES: It was Vanek’s third multigoal game with the Wild, his first this season. … Jets center Andrew Copp returned to the lineup after a four-game absence due to an upper-body injury. … Wild right wing Kurtis Gabriel made his NHL debut and fought with Chris Thorburn, drawing a major penalty for each player.
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