Kaprizov-Rask-Zuccarello line has Wild offense soaring

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Sarah McLellan, Star Tribune
·3 min read
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DENVER – The hottest line in the NHL vs. one of the best in the game.

That's the matchup to watch Wednesday when the Wild wraps up a five-game road trip at Colorado. This meeting that was supposed to happen nearly three weeks ago before a COVID-19 outbreak among the Wild suspended play for each team.

After slowly getting players affected by the coronavirus back, the Wild has scored 14 goals during a season-long three-game win streak, a complete about-face from the last time it faced the Avalanche on the brink of that league-mandated hibernation to get healthy.

And the catalyst is a trio that's been together for just two games, rookie Kirill Kaprizov with center Victor Rask and veteran Mats Zuccarello.

"The puck is kind of finding us in the right spots," Zuccarello said. "Sometimes you chase the puck the whole game. You work your hardest and you feel like you haven't touched the puck. Some games it's almost glued to you even though you feel like you don't work that hard, but the puck is there.

"So, I think you just enjoy it as much as you can."

After teaming up for nine points Monday in the 6-2 dismantling of the Sharks, the line has combined for 14 overall since it was formed ahead of the 5-1 blitz Saturday at Anaheim.

Zuccarello has been the ringleader, scoring twice and accruing six points in the pair of games, including four Monday night. It was just the second time Zuccarello's recorded a four-point effort in his career and the first for the Wild since Matt Dumba did it March 29, 2018, against Dallas.

A playmaker throughout his NHL career, Zuccarello is the setup artist but what seems to be making the unit click is that everyone is taking turns organizing plays and finishing them.

Take the two goals they scored 11 seconds apart Monday; Rask fed Zuccarello for a blistering shot and then on the very next shift, Zuccarello's one-time pass was redirected in at the post by Kaprizov.

"You obviously have three very skilled players, three guys that work hard and possess the puck and track pucks down and get pucks back," defenseman Ian Cole said. "There are a lot of skilled lines, but lines that can get pucks back and create turnovers and then capitalize on those turnovers make them even that much better.

"They've been doing a fantastic job of that."

Cole should know what makes a successful line.

Not only does he have to defend against them, but he also played alongside one of the premier groups in the NHL in recent years when he was with Colorado — the Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

The three didn't start together in the team's last game, a 3-0 loss to Vegas, but they were reunited during the action and have a reputation as being one of the NHL's most cohesive lines. Landeskog brings the grit, Rantanen the skill and MacKinnon is the do-it-all MVP of the league.

Kaprizov, Rask and Zuccarello aren't at that caliber, but their contributions are still meaningful, especially for a team like the Wild that was starved for goals not too long ago.

After a 2-1 loss in the third game of what was to have been four in a row against the Avs before the hiatus, the Wild is back to take care of unfinished business.

And the offense, led by Kaprizov, Rask and Zuccarello, has an opportunity to show just how much the Wild has grown from that adversity.

"When they get a chance on the rush, they've been scoring and they're hanging onto pucks in the O-zone," Cole said. "They possess it. They're doing it every way, so we can certainly continue to run with that blueprint as we move forward."