They looked like long-running rivals, causing a scene after whistles when they pushed and shoved and yelled around the referees trying to separate them.
The action in between was also tense, a supercharged back-and-forth with a feisty edge.
It was a far cry from how the Wild presented itself in recent games, when it looked like it had shifted into neutral instead of kicking its desperation into overdrive.
But getting into a combative contest with the Rangers seemed be just what the team needed to rediscover its own fight, which it did in a 5-2 win over New York Saturday in front of 18,844 at Xcel Energy Center that snapped its three-game losing streak and improved it to 1-2 on a critical five-game homestand.
Whether or not this was enough to inch closer to a playoff spot was immediately unclear since the Arizona Coyotes, who occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference the Wild is chasing, were still in action when the Wild skated off the ice.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the Wild established a template that will give it a chance to stay close, an attack that certainly captured the urgency that reflects its situation but also the execution needed to channel that emotion into results.
Winger Ryan Donato scored twice, doubling his previous goal output in just one period, and goalie Devan Dubnyk recovered from an early miscue to post a solid 26 saves.
Where the Wild was most noticeably better was the start, which was key to setting a fresh tone after a disenchanted 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars Thursday that put the team three points behind the Coyotes.
Just 4 minutes, 40 seconds into the first period, Donato rushed into the Rangers’ zone on a 2-on-1 advantage with winger Pontus Aberg. Instead of passing off like the Wild tends to do, Donato authoritatively wound up and sent a shot over New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s right shoulder.
That early momentum was siphoned a bit when the Rangers responded 1:20 later on a fortuitous goal.
The puck rolled by Dubnyk behind the net after he tried to stop it and before he could reposition himself in the crease, center Mika Zibanejad’s centering attempt from the corner below the goal line slid into the far end of the net.
Rather than shrinking under the miscue, the Wild fought back – literally, standing up to the Rangers to look as engaged as it’s been since a blemish-free 3-0 win over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning March 7 before its recent slide.
And it was rewarded for that aggressiveness.
At 16:05, Donato converted his second – a tip on a shot by center Luke Kunin, who helped the Wild transition to the Rangers’ end when he sprung winger Jason Zucker for an unsuccessful breakaway with a slick bank pass off the boards.
Donato has 11 points in 12 games with the Wild since joining the team in a trade with the Boston Bruins, and this was his second career multi-goal effort.
This mojo carried over to the second, with center Eric Staal making it 3-1 only 4:51 into the period when his attempted pass to winger Zach Parise on another 2-on-1 break bounced off defenseman Neal Pionk’s stick and into the net. The tally was Staal’s 20th, the 12th season in his career he’s recorded at least that many goals.
Hanging on to that lead appeared to get tougher when Zucker went down after a gruesome sequence.
New York defenseman Brady Skjei fell onto Zucker’s right leg, twisting it awkwardly along the boards. Zucker had to be helped off the ice, skating without putting any pressure on his right leg, but he returned before the period ended to put the Wild back at full strength.
Another encouraging sign was the continued emergence of the power play.
After going 1-for-1 against the Stars to end a 0-for-18 drought, the unit delivered again – on a one-timer from defenseman Jared Spurgeon 6:06 into the third that blew by Lundquist, who totaled 41 saves.
It was the first time the Wild converted in consecutive games since Feb.21-22. The unit finished 1-for-3, while the Rangers were 0-for-2.
That ended up being a helpful insurance goal, since New York replied at 8:56 on a five-hole backhander by winger Pavel Buchnevich.
But the Wild’s finish after that was just as steady as its start, a spirited push that included an empty-net goal from winger J.T. Brown at 17:25 and made the ensuing 10-game conclusion to the regular season look more optimistic.