ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Brock Faber got his first NHL goal in the first period and Filip Gustavsson stopped 41 shots for a season-opening shutout as the Minnesota Wild beat the Florida Panthers 2-0 on Thursday night.
Joel Eriksson Ek assisted on Faber’s goal and scored on a 4 on 3 in the second period, and Gustavsson took it from there to pick up where he left off in goal in his strong debut last season with the Wild.
“It’s not going to be like that every night, that’s for sure,” Gustavsson said. “It’s on the limit a few times. It’s very close, that the puck goes by me. But sometimes you’re lucky, and you create your own luck.”
The Wild are 9-1-1 in season openers at Xcel Energy Center and 11-2-3 at home against the Panthers.
Faber, the native of Minnesota who starred in college for the home-state Gophers and joined the Wild for the final two games of the regular season, skated on the first defensemen pair with Jonas Brodin. He a snagged a drop pass from Matt Boldy at the blue line, waited a second to find a seam and ripped a slap shot past Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s stick.
“It was more just a shot to get it down there than to pick a corner, but I got lucky,” Faber said. “Everyone just kind of started skating toward me, so I figured something good happened.”
The Wild had been outshot 10-2 before Faber’s strike.
“Jumped into the play a lot. He’s just a very intelligent hockey player,” coach Dean Evason said.
The game looked more like an exhibition at times and grew increasingly rough and tumble. Bobrovsky, who finished with 19 saves, was put in a precarious position after dual penalties put both teams down a skater. After the Wild’s Alex Goligoski hit the crossbar on a 4-on-4 shot, Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was called for tripping Mats Zuccarello to give the Wild a 4 on 3.
Eriksson Ek took advantage by gathering a loose puck at the edge of the crease with his back to Bobrovsky, deftly pivoting toward the net and knocking it in for the two-goal lead.
The Panthers were the last Eastern Conference team to qualify for the playoffs last spring and the last Eastern Conference team standing in a remarkable first season under decorated coach Paul Maurice and with star right wing Matthew Tkachuk.
The same core is back with increased familiarity of the hard-driving Maurice, giving the Panthers optimism they can not only return to the Stanley Cup Finals but win it for the first time in franchise history. Rookie Mackie Samoskevich had an active debut on the third line. Tkachuk put 10 shots on net and had 15 attempts.
“We’ve got to get the right traffic at the right time, but I’m not going to complain about it,” Maurice said. “When your goalie plays a game like that you should have a chance to win.”
The Wild’s normally sound defense was vulnerable at times, with captain Jared Spurgeon out for multiple weeks with an upper body injury that occurred when he was checked into the board in a preseason game and Matt Dumba now in Arizona after 10 years with Minnesota.
But the Wild blocked 26 shots, and Gustavsson was up to the task.
“I think some of our best chances never got to the net,” Maurice said.
After giving him a new contract, making him the clear starter ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury and filming a clever new promo revolving around his nickname, the Wild are ready to ride the “Gus Bus” again this season. He had a 2.10 goals against average and a .931 save percentage in 39 games last season.
“It gives you a lot of confidence as a defenseman when you see your goalie playing the way he was,” Faber said. “It makes our job very easy. Obviously we hope to support him a little more.”
Panthers: Play at Winnipeg on Saturday. Their home opener isn’t until Oct. 19 against Toronto.
Wild: Play at Toronto on Saturday. Fourteen of their first 17 games are against Eastern Conference foes.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL