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For Wild’s Jason Zucker, relaxation key to ending drought

Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker (16) celebrates his goal during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, Jan. 10. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL -- With his hangdog face, slumped shoulders and whacking the boards in disgust, Jason Zucker wore his scoring drought hard, bemoaning it forcefully after the Wild’s 4-0 blanking in Boston on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

One goal in 11 games will do that to a talented winger counted on to carry a lot of offensive water on a team perpetually thirsting for scoring. So coach Bruce Boudreau summoned Zucker for an ego boost the other day.

“It’s so natural. If you’re a scorer, when you’re not scoring, you bang your stick on the boards,” Boudreau said. “He was looking like he was really pressing, so I just told him to relax and good things will happen.”

They sure did.

Zucker scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in Thursday’s 3-2 home victory over the Winnipeg Jets. He remains on pace for 23 goals and was circumspect about the whole turnaround.

“Every guy goes through it every year. That’s just the way it works,” he said. “The best players, the streak doesn’t keep going. It goes up and down, and you’ve got to find ways to limit it as much as possible.

“It’s hard to do. It’s mental,” Zucker continued. “There was a lot of times I thought I was playing really well, but the puck wasn’t going in. This is good how it broke through this last game.”

Zucker scored the game-winner on a breakaway after Zach Parise lofted him a lead pass as he came out of the penalty box. He bagged his first on a nifty redirection of a Mikko Koivu set up on the power play, a much needed marker for the Wild, who had been struggling to gain any traction with the man advantage.

Minnesota might have found another way to deploy the speedy winger, by having him drop anchor atop the crease.

“He’s been good in front of the net,” Boudreau said. “He’s got the good hand-eye and tips pucks. Very similar to Zach.”

One game does not make a streak, however.

“It’s always nice to put in a couple and contribute, especially in a winning game,” Zucker said. “Now it’s about doing it again, two nights in a row.”

Spurgeon the ‘rock’

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon had two assists and took a seven-game points streak into Saturday’s game against Detroit, which has him tied for first among NHL defensemen in goals.

No defenseman in Wild history has scored more goals than Spurgeon, who had 63 entering play. Not Brent Burns. Not Ryan Suter.

His uptick in production is coming at a crucial time for Minnesota, which has been without Matt Dumba for a month and is not expected to get him back in the lineup until March at the earliest after the bomber had surgery last month to repair a torn pectoralis muscle.

“He’s our rock,” Boudreau said of Spurgeon. “He gets unnoticed all the time. but I think every hockey person in this league knows who he is. He’s one of those guys that when you’re in a meeting, he’s staring at you right in the eyes. He’s taking it all in. You only have to tell him once. He knows what he has to do.

“I don’t think there’s a coach in pro sports who would not like to have a guy like Jared Spurgeon in his team.”


• Minnesota’s leading scorer Zach Parise was not among the “Last Men In” to earn an all-star nomination. Gabriel Landeskog will be the Central Division’s final representative after fan balloting concluded earlier this week. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk will be the Wild’s lone player at the Jan. 25-26 event in San Jose, Calif.