SAINT PAUL, Minn. — With his team fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, Zach Parise’s slump over the past month came at the worst time possible. But that looks to be all over now.
Parise shed the doldrums with a first-period hat trick, and that was all the offense the Minnesota Wild needed Thursday as they jumped out to an early lead and held off the Calgary Flames, winning 6-2 to gain a critical two points in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Mikko Koivu added a trio of assists, Jared Spurgeon scored twice and Nino Niederreiter also scored for the Wild (36-28-11). With eight games to play, Minnesota leads Colorado by three points after the Avalanche lost at home to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
The Wild will face the Avalanche in Denver on Saturday night.
“Some more looks, some more chances and you never know,” Parise said. “You could miss a couple more but fortunately tonight they went in.”
Johnny Gaudreau and Jakub Nakladal scored for the Flames (31-37-6), who got 23 saves from goalie Niklas Backstrom in his return to his former home rink. Backstrom spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Wild before being traded to Calgary on Feb. 29.
“It sucks that we lost, and I’m glad that it’s over,” Backstrom said. “It’s been a tough couple days, coming here to the Cities. I haven’t really been able to go anywhere without people talking about the game. Sure, the outcome, I wish it would have been different, but the first time in my life you’re happy the game is over and you can move on.”
Devan Dubnyk had 31 saves for the Wild, who won their fourth in a row.
Leading 4-2 in the third, Minnesota appeared to take a three-goal lead on a power-play shot by Matt Dumba. However, the Flames challenged the play, and after a review, it was ruled that Niederreiter made contact with Backstrom before the shot, so the goal was disallowed.
A few minutes later, the Wild made it 5-2 on a power-play goal that counted. Spurgeon slapped home a loose puck in at the left of the Calgary net. Niederreiter, playing in the 300th game of his career, added an exclamation point with less than four minutes to play.
Backstrom, who is Minnesota’s franchise goalie leader in games played (409), wins (194) and shutouts (28), got a standing ovation from the Wild fans when a tribute to him was played on the video board, and he responded with a stick salute.
Unfortunately for the Calgary goalie, the admiration came after Parise had already scored on two of Minnesota’s first three shots on goal.
He opened the scoring after a pass from behind the net, popping off a high shot that glanced off Backstrom’s left shoulder and into the net. The red goal light was a welcome sight for Parise, who has been battling nagging injuries and had scored just once in his last 16 games.
“Tough start. That first goal, it’s quite a shot by Parise. I think it stunned him a little bit,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley of Backstrom. “The second one I’m sure he would have liked to see it again. I felt that then he settled down. I didn’t want to pull him. Tonight, it was his show. It was in front of his fans. I thought that he deserved it.”
Parise doubled the Wild lead less than a minute later with a low shot that beat Backstrom between the knees. But Gaudreau’s power-play goal near the midway point of the first period pulled the visitors back within one. Sean Monahan’s shot from the right circle was wide of the net, but caromed hard off the end boards and went directly to Gaudreau at the left of the net. He scored on a high shot before Dubnyk could cover the far post.
Parise completed the hat trick before the first period was through, tipping a power play shot by Ryan Suter from his post at the top of the crease. It was the fastest three goals by one player in Wild history, and Parise’s first hat trick at home as a member of the Wild.
“Great players want to do great things all the time. Zach just has to stick with his identity, which he’s done a great job with,” Wild interim coach John Torchetti said. “Getting in front of that net, like I said. The first 10 games of the year I’ve never seen a guy work any harder. I just see him battle, battle, battle, and those are the things that are coming now.”
After Nakladal scored on a rocket of a slap shot early in the second period to cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-2, the Wild quickly got one back on a power play, when Spurgeon slapped home the rebound of a Parise shot.
NOTES: With LW Thomas Vanek back in the lineup on Thursday after being a healthy scratch for the Wild’s three previous games, LW Jason Zucker took his turn in the arena pressbox. Zucker was held to a goal and no assists in his last seven games. … The Flames had been in Minnesota for an extended visit. They got to St. Paul after their Monday loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto, and several members of the traveling party attended the Wild’s Tuesday night home game against the Los Angeles Kings. … All of Xcel Energy Center’s locker rooms were full on Thursday night, with the NCAA West Regional being played there this weekend and teams from Boston University, Ferris State, Denver and St. Cloud State checking into the rink early.