WASHINGTON (AP) — Jordan Greenway pumped his fist, and Luke Kunin held out his arms waiting for teammates to join him.
They celebrated like kids after performing like seasoned veterans.
With the Minnesota Wild outside a playoff position with little margin for error, the kid line of Kunin, Greenway and Ryan Donato pumped in two crucial goals to beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals 2-1 on Friday night. Minnesota snapped a two-game skid and leapfrogged the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche to move into the second wild-card spot in a competitive Western Conference race.
“When we have the focus that we did tonight, the confidence, the commitment, I think we can do a lot of good things, and we can beat anyone,” Greenway said. “Whether it’s Washington or whoever, I think we can beat them.”
Minnesota fed off the confidence of the second line of 21- and 22-year-olds to hand the Capitals their second consecutive loss. Devan Dubnyk made 21 saves, but more impressive was the Wild holding Washington to 22 shots a game after it put up 58 on NHL-leading Tampa Bay.
“That was just a playoff game,” Dubnyk said. “The focus was there.”
Donato — acquired from Boston in February — was the best player on the ice for much of the night and assisted on the Greenway’s goal in the first period and Kunin’s go-ahead goal with 7:35 left in the third. Coach Bruce Boudreau believes having three young players on a line together gets rid of the expectation to pass to a veteran, and this mix is working lately.
“We’re learning from each other,” Donato said. “I think we’re starting to get each other’s habits, where we’re going to be on the ice, where the other guys are going to be, where they like to pass to. Being able to learn with each other, it makes you feel comfortable on the ice. You don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong.”
It wasn’t a masterpiece, but Minnesota needed two points in any way possible. Returning to face the team that gave him his start in the NHL, Boudreau knew full well that with only two games Friday night, the Wild were the only ones who could gain ground after getting some help from a Coyotes loss on Thursday.
Remembering his team’s recent roller-coaster play, Boudreau said the victory only “means temporarily we’re in a playoff spot.”
The Capitals are in a good spot atop the Metropolitan Division, but have now lost four of six. They missed an opportunity to add to their division lead and still lead the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins by four points.
“We didn’t play our game at all,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We knew they were going to play desperate — they need points as we do — but I think the sense of urgency was on their side, not on our side.”
Brett Connolly scored his 21st goal of the season and Braden Holtby made 25 saves for Washington, which didn’t have the same intensity as its showdown against the Lightning two days earlier.
“After coming off some emotional games lately, I think we didn’t ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing,” Holtby said.
Despite losing seven of their previous nine games, the Wild remain in control of their playoff hopes with seven games remaining.
“It’s never easy when it’s out of your control, so for us having it in our control and getting a win like that, it’s definitely a feel-good win,” Donato said.
NOTES: Minnesota improved to 20-15-2 on the road. … Donato’s primary assist on Greenway’s goal was the 10,000th point in Wild franchise history. … Connolly has 13 points in his past 16 games. … Washington’s power play went 0 for 3 with just one shot in those six minutes. … Capitals D Christian Djoos returned to the lineup to replace Michal Kempny, who’s out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. … LW Carl Hagelin was a late scratch with an illness and was replaced by Chandler Stephenson. … Ovechkin remained two goals away from his eighth career 50-goal season.
Wild: Visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday in Victor Rask’s first game against his former team since being traded for Nino Niederreiter.
Capitals: Look to end their brief losing streak Sunday when they host the Metropolitan Division-rival Philadelphia Flyers.
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