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Wild end nine-game home skid against Panthers

ST. PAUL -- If the Minnesota Wild are going to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs, winning at home will be crucial. They took an important step in that direction Sunday.

ST. PAUL - If the Minnesota Wild are going to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs, winning at home will be crucial. They took an important step in that direction Sunday.

Center Erik Haula scored the tiebreaker in the third period, helping the Wild to a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers and snapping Minnesota’s nine-game winless streak at Xcel Energy Center. It was the Wild’s first win in their home rink in 2016.

Center Charlie Coyle also scored for the Wild, who last won a home game on Dec. 28. Minnesota (28-25-10) improved to 5-3-0 under interim head coach John Torchetti by snapping a three-game losing streak.

Goalie Devan Dubnyk made 17 saves and right winger Jason Pominville added an empty-net goal for Minnesota, which is fighting to stay relevant in the playoff picture with six weeks to go in the regular season. The Wild are two points back of Colorado in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, and they host the Avalanche on Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to win a lot of games here down the stretch in order to make the playoffs, so it was a good job starting tonight,” Dubnyk said. “I think we’ve been working our way toward playing some pretty good hockey.”

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Defenseman Aaron Ekblad had the lone goal for Florida, which made an unplanned goalie change less than halfway through the first period. Al Montoya stopped three of the four shots he faced before an injury chased him from the game. Roberto Luongo came on and made 21 saves, falling to 3-11-2 all-time in Minnesota.

With the game tied 1-1 in the third, Haula blocked a dump-in attempt by Florida right winger Reilly Smith at the far blue line, springing Haula on an end-to-end rush. Crossing into the offensive zone, Haula split a pair of Panthers defenders and came in alone on Luongo, popping a shot into the upper right corner of the net after Luongo lunged for the puck. It was the career-best eighth goal of the season for Haula.

“The kid can score on breakaways, he’s fast. We knew that coming in,” said Panthers center Nick Bjugstad, who was a teammate of Haula at the University of Minnesota. “(Luongo) held us in there, but we had a few lapses like that. We just didn’t bring enough offensively, I didn’t feel that we got enough quality chances on Dubnyk.”

Wild left winger Zach Parise, who missed his team’s two-game road trip last week with an upper-body injury, announced his return to the lineup early Sunday. From the left circle, he zipped a pass to Coyle at the top of the crease for a tap-in goal at 5:18 of the first period.

“It was all about the win at home,” Torchetti said. “The fans deserved it, they were great tonight; they supported us. We hadn’t won at home in a long time. It’s a feeling that you have to be comfortable with out there. We had a great first (period), the second was OK -- they came back with a good push in the second period and got a little physical.”

Minnesota nearly doubled its lead a short time after the first goal when right winger Nino Niederreiter clanked a close range shot off the post.

Montoya left the game after being hit by Wild defenseman Marco Scandella. Coming across the top of the crease, Scandella was shoved from behind by Ekblad and appeared to contact Montoya’s head. Trainers attended to Montoya, who left the game and headed down the tunnel to the locker room, bringing Luongo on in relief.

“He got hit pretty good,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “(Our trainer) said he’s fine, so he should be ready to go next game whether he plays or not. But he should be fine to go.”

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Ekblad’s equalizer came on a power play 7:34 into the second period. A pass by left winger Jussi Jokinen from the corner found Ekblad all alone in the slot. Dubnyk got most of Ekblad’s low shot, but the puck still slipped over the line. It snapped a streak of six games that Ekblad had been held without a point.

On Minnesota’s next power play, Luongo made the save of the game. Lying on his stomach in the crease without his stick, Luongo gloved a point-blank shot by Parise to maintain the 1-1 tie. Early in the third, Luongo smothered a slap shot by Wild left winger Thomas Vanek, who was in alone from the blue line on a breakaway.

NOTES: Wild C Mikko Koivu became the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by skating in his 744th contest for Minnesota. The Wild captain surpassed the mark set by D Nick Schultz (now with Philadelphia) from 2001-12. ... Panthers rookie C Kyle Rau played his first pro game in his home state Sunday. In 2011 at Xcel Energy Center, Rau’s overtime goal lifted Eden Prairie High School to the Minnesota state championship, and he was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey that season. Rau’s Florida teammate, C Nick Bjugstad, was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey in 2010 for Blaine High School. ... Florida C Derek MacKenzie was placed on injured reserve Sunday due to a concussion. C Quinton Howden returned to the Panthers’ lineup Sunday after missing the previous five games with a concussion.

Minnesota 3, Florida 1

Florida 0 1 0- 1
Minnesota 1 0 2- 3

First Period-1, Minnesota, Coyle 19 (Parise, Suter) 5:18.
Second Period-2, Florida, Ekblad 12 (Jokinen, Barkov) 7:34 (pp).
Third Period-3, Minnesota, Haula 8 (unassisted) 10:29. 4, Minnesota, Pominville 10 (Haula) 19:21 (pp) (en).
Shots on Goal-Florida 6-9-3-18. Minnesota 9-9-9-27.
Power-play opportunities-Florida 1 of 3. Minnesota 1 of 5.
Goalies-Florida Luongo 26-15-6 (22 shots-21 saves), Montoya 0-0-0 (4-3). Minnesota Dubnyk 22-21-5 (18-17).
A-19,093 (18,064).

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILD
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