LAS VEGAS (AP) The thought of playing an NHL game in his hometown never entered Jason Zucker’s mind when the Minnesota Wild made him their second-round pick in the 2010 draft.
Leading up to Friday night it was all he could think about, and he made the most of it.
Zucker, the only NHL player raised in Nevada, scored a goal and assisted on another in leading the Wild to a 4-2 victory over the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
”It wasn’t even a dream, so I can’t even say it was a dream come true. I just never thought it was going to happen,” said Zucker, who was born in Southern California but moved to Las Vegas as an infant. ”It’s really cool to do it, and to have my family and friends here, my wife and kids, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Wild, who had lost two in a row and four of seven, completed a 3-0 season sweep of the Pacific Division leaders in front of 18,295 fans.
Charlie Coyle, Matt Dumba and Zach Parise also scored for the Wild, and Alex Stalock stopped 26 shots.
”You could tell in the morning skate we were ready,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”It goes to show when they put their mind to it, they can play. This was something against a really good hockey team, a really fast team.”
Erik Haula and Ryan Carpenter scored for the Golden Knights, who dropped to 24-9-2 at home and have lost four straight in T Mobile Arena.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who fell to 2-8-0 in 10 starts against the Wild, made 26 saves. It was the first time Fleury lost back-to-back games in regulation this season.
”We’ve had such success all year long. I don’t think we’ve had too many rough patches, especially at home,” Fleury said. ”It’s frustrating. We know we can be better. I know I can be better.”
The Wild showed no signs of struggle without defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who leads the team in blocked shots (127) but partially tore his right hamstring against Colorado on Tuesday and is expected to miss at least four weeks. Minnesota, which had 18 blocked shots, ranks 28th with its penalty kill on the road but stopped Vegas on all three power plays.
In his homecoming, Zucker gave the Wild a 1-0 lead midway through the first period with his 29th goal of the season.
Coyle extended his point streak to five games when he backhanded a loose puck over Fleury’s stick midway through the second. Coyle has three goals and three assists in his last five games.
Moments later, Zucker fed Dumba, who lifted the puck over a sprawled-out Fleury to extend Minnesota’s lead to 3-0 with 13:24 left in the period. Eric Staal, who ranks fifth in the league with 37 goals and leads all NHL players with four versus Vegas, now has six points against the Golden Knights after assisting on Dumba’s goal.
With Jonas Brodin’s assist on Coyle’s goal and Dumba’s 11th goal of the season, Minnesota defensemen have totaled a franchise-record 173 points (36 goals, 137 assists) in 71 games this season. The Wild rank second behind Nashville for most points by blue-liners this season.
Haula and Carpenter scored late in the third to make it a one-goal game, but Parise’s empty-netter sealed the win for the Wild.
Minnesota is third in the Central Division behind Nashville and Winnipeg. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are eight points ahead of second-place San Jose in the Pacific Division.
”I don’t care who we’re playing, it’s time to get back to winning,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”We’ve had a great home record all year long. We’ve got to make sure we’re the hardest-working team on Sunday and find a way to win.”
NOTES: Vegas goalie Malcolm Subban, who is 11-3-1 with a 2.59 goals-against average, was activated from injured reserve and could see his first action since Feb. 2 on Sunday vs. Calgary. … Dumba and Vegas’ Pierre-Edouard Bellemare both played in their 299th career game. … Gallant remains three wins shy of 200 career victories. … Fleury still needs one win to move into a tie for 12th on the career list for goaltenders at 401.
Wild: Visit the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.
Golden Knights: Host the Calgary Flames on Sunday.
For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey