The Minnesota Wild have been beset by a bunch of injuries during a sluggish start, including long-term absences for two top forwards.
Matt Cullen led the wakeup call less than five minutes into Thursday night’s game, taking advantage of a Montreal Canadiens team having a lot more trouble early this season.
Cullen scored his first goal of the season on his 41st birthday and added an assist during a three-goal first period, giving the Wild a welcome spark on the way to a 6-3 victory over the Canadiens.
“Something we talked a lot about was, we need to come out with life and energy,” Cullen said, “and tonight was a lot better.”
Nino Niederreiter and Tyler Ennis also scored to send struggling Canadiens goalie Carey Price into the first intermission with a 3-0 deficit. Ryan Suter chipped in a second-period goal , and Jared Spurgeon scored on a power play for more insurance in the first minute of the third.
“Our first two periods were as good a two periods as we’ve played all year,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund each had two assists and Marcus Foligno added an empty-net goal for the Wild, who have won six straight games against the Canadiens while outscoring them 25-9.
Price, who stopped 21 shots by the Wild, gave up a staggering seven goals in the team’s last trip to Minnesota on Jan. 12 . Once again, he was taunted by the crowd with the “Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!” chant once the score grew.
“We all know that Carey is a much better goaltender than he’s showing right now,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “The only thing he can do, and we can do, is keep working with him, and him working hard and finding his groove again because he’s definitely the key to us getting back into the race.”
Brendan Gallagher scored twice and Andrew Shaw had one of two third-period goals for the Canadiens, who totaled 13 goals over their previous two games but still entered the night with the fourth-fewest goals per game (2.5) in the NHL.
“We’re just inconsistent, and that’s the worst thing you want from a team because it gives you hope,” Gallagher said. “Obviously we still believe in each other. We know what we’re capable of doing. We just have too many letdowns, and that’s about being mentally tough.”
Defense has been a problem for the Canadiens, too, with the third-most goals allowed per game (3.75) in the league coming into this game. That’s despite the presence of Price, the five-time All-Star who was the Hart Trophy winner just three seasons ago as MVP of the NHL.
“Just stick with it. Just try and find a way to get through it,” said Price, who has allowed four goals or more in four of his last five starts.
Devan Dubnyk made 27 saves for the Wild, winning his third straight start.
Cullen, the second-oldest player in the league behind Jaromir Jagr of the Calgary Flames, snagged a long rebound off Price’s pads and sent it into the net as Price was falling to his right. That put the Wild on the board just 4:46 into the game.
Matt Dumba, who had two assists, set up Niederreiter’s tip 10 seconds after Cullen scored with a slap shot off a clearing attempt by Price went astray. Price jammed the butt of his stick into his glove several times in frustration after falling behind 2-0. Cullen then led a slick 2-on-1 to beat defenseman Jeff Petry and tee up Ennis for the tap-in.
Dumba responded deftly to a rough game Tuesday night, when his careless drop pass was intercepted by Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers for an easy goal in a 2-1 win by the Jets. Dumba was benched by Boudreau after the turnover and criticized by the boss afterward, but Boudreau called this performance Dumba’s best of the season.
“We can’t go anywhere without him being really good. He’s one of our top-four defensemen, and we need our top-four defensemen to perform every night,” Boudreau said.
NOTES: Cullen has three goals and four assists in eight career games on his birthday. He played in his 1,500th game, including playoffs, which ranks 46th all-time and sixth among active players. … Spurgeon snapped an 0-for-19 skid on the power play for the Wild. … Gallagher has five goals in the last six games. … Shaw scored for the first time this season.
Canadiens: Make the third stop on a four-game road trip Saturday night to play the Winnipeg Jets.
Wild: Host the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night to wrap up a six-game homestand.