VANCOUVER - For veteran Wild forward Matt Cullen, this is the time of year when he thrives.
Cullen had a goal and an assist Friday while Eric Staal scored the eventual winner as Minnesota defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 at Rogers Arena.
The 41-year-old Cullen, the oldest player currently in the NHL, has scored five of his 10 goals this season in the past 10 games. The Wild are currently headed for the playoffs where the former Pittsburgh Penguin has a chance to reach his third straight Stanley Cup final.
"I get excited about what lies in front when the games get big and everything becomes more magnified and more important," said Cullen. "That's why I still play, I do love this time of year."
Zach Parise, Marcus Foligno and Charlie Coyle, with an empty-net goal, also scored for the Wild (39-22-7), who have won three straight and eight of their past 10. Minnesota leads the Dallas Stars by three points for third in the Central Division and trail Winnipeg by six points for second.
Staal's winner came when he was tied up in the crease with Troy Stecher and a Mikael Granlund wrist shot from a hard angle bounced off his stick in. It's been that kind of run for Staal, who's up to 37 goals on the season with 11 in his last nine games. The red-hot centre is only three behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals.
"A lot of people say look how lucky he is but in the end it's not luck, the good players do that," said Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau.
For the Canucks, the loss wrapped up a tough five-game home stand (1-2-2) that saw the loss of star player Brock Boeser to injury (back) and a poor effort against Arizona in their last game.
"It's not hard to have a better effort than we had last game. That was terrible," said Michael Del Zotto, who scored the game's first goal 53 seconds in. "We talked about it all year, we preach consistently and our effort and compete level has to be there every night."
Jussi Jokinen scored in his second straight game for the Canucks (25-34-9), Anders Nilsson got the start and finished with 31 saves.
"We cant find any excuses, everyone needs to look at themselves in the mirror and think about what everyone can bring to the table," said Nilsson. "For me it's simple, I need to find one or two more saves."
If there was a positive takeaway for the Canucks, it was the noticeably improved effort compared to the Coyotes loss.
"It wasn't good enough, but it was better," said Henrik Sedin. "I thought that we wanted to be part of this game. Last game I thought we stepped on the ice and thought it was going to be an easy game. Tonight we battled."
The first-period scoring all happened in the first 1:42. Del Zotto's hard wrist shot from the face-off circle slipped through Devan Dubnyk's pads, allowing the defenceman to collect his rebound and score on a wraparound.
Parise was next, deftly lifting it behind Nilsson's shoulder to quiet the crowd.
Nilsson robbed Cullen early in the second with a great glove save, but he got his goal at 2:46, when Tyler Ennis made a nice cross-ice pass to Cullen streaking through the slot.
Jokinen made it 2-2 in the second on a juicy Erik Gudbranson rebound, then Staal's goal made it 3-2 after two.
After Coyle scored an empty-netter with 43 seconds left, Foligno banged in a rebound to put the game away.
Dubnyk made 30 saves for Minnesota.