Cullen celebrates 41st birthday leading Wild over Canadiens
Before Thursday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, a reporter asked Wild coach Bruce Boudreau what 20-year veteran Matt Cullen brings to the team.
He effectively summed it up in one word.
“Experience,” Boudreau said. “He’s been through it all. He’s seen it all.”
Still, heading into the matchup, Cullen hadn’t done much since delaying retirement and signing a one-year deal with the hometown Wild in the offseason.
While he’d been a model of consistency near the bottom of the lineup through 10 games, he hadn’t scored a goal and had only managed two assists.
Apparently he was waiting for a special occasion, and on his 41st birthday, Cullen broke out with a goal and an assist as the Wild earned a 6-3 win over the Canadiens.
Cullen momentarily misspoke in the locker room after the game nearly claiming to be 31 years old before quickly correctly himself.
“You know, turning 41, not 31, was good,” Cullen said with a huge smile. “Obviously it’s fun to play this long and I enjoy playing and it was nice to get (a goal) tonight and nice to get the win.”
Cullen got the party started less than five minutes into the game with a whirling wrist shot that beat Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. He raised his arms as the puck hit the back of the net and his teammates rushed in to hug him. He then skated to the bench where the rest of his teammates greeted him with first bumps and smiles.
“It was nice,” Boudreau said. “We want everybody to score. Cully, he’s been a scorer in his career, so I was glad to see that.”
That celebration for Cullen was short-lived, as Nino Niederreiter scored 10 seconds later after redirecting a shot from Matt Dumba.
That said, Cullen was back at it about 10 minutes later leading a breakout and delivering a perfect saucer pass to Tyler Ennis for a tap in goal as the Wild took a three-goal lead into the first intermission.
“It’s so impressive to be 41 years old and play as long as he has and to be able to play the way he does,” Ennis said. “He’s still got lots of juice.”
“It’s amazing bro,” Dumba added. “That’s almost double my age. It’s crazy.”
In the second period, the Wild managed to keep the momentum rolling despite a relatively sleepy 20 minute of play.
Ryan Suter increased the lead midway through the frame when he slapped home a well-executed touch pass from Mikko Koivu before Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher scored a minute later to cut into the deficit heading into the final frame.
“I thought it was good,” Boudreau said. “I thought our first two periods were as good as two periods we’ve played.”
In the third period, the Wild seemed to take their foot off the gas, especially after Jared Spurgeon scored a power-play goal 34 seconds in to make it a four-goal game again.
Things got a little interesting down the stretch as Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw scored and Gallagher got his second goal of the game.
In the end, though, the Wild held on as Marcus Foligno slammed the door shut with an empty-net goal with less than two minutes to play.
In the locker room after the game Cullen was made aware that he was the oldest U.S. born player to have a goal and an assist in the same game.
“Oh really,” Cullen said, realizing that means he’s getting up there in age. “I don’t know what to say.”
“I think when I’m all done playing I’ll probably look back and enjoy it,” Cullen added. “Obviously in the middle of the season it doesn’t mean a whole lot. I feel really blessed to have played as long as I have and I’ve really enjoyed it and I still enjoy it and that’s why I’m playing. I’m sure when I sit down at home after it’s all done I’ll really enjoy that.”