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Graovac energizing Wild fourth line, creating scoring chances

MINNEAPOLIS -- Wild center Tyler Graovac had a hard time falling asleep Saturday night. He stayed awake thinking about his missed scoring chances in Minnesota's 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Dec 7, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) and Minnesota Wild forward Tyler Graovac (44) battle for the puck at the Air Canada Centre. Minnesota defeated Toronto 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) and Minnesota Wild forward Tyler Graovac (44) battle for the puck at the Air Canada Centre. Minnesota defeated Toronto 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Wild center Tyler Graovac had a hard time falling asleep Saturday night. He stayed awake thinking about his missed scoring chances in Minnesota's 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

"Thank God we won because if we hadn't I really wouldn't have slept," he said. "I could've won the game for the team. I've had a couple of those scoring chances where they don't want to go in."

That said, the fact Graovac and wingers Chris Stewart and Kurtis Gabriel are creating any scoring chances from the fourth line is a bonus for coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the team.

At one point this season, the fourth line was nothing more than a liability fro the Wild. That has changed with the insertion of Gabriel into the starting lineup. His physical play has energized both Graovac and Stewart - especially Stewart.

"He's support for Stewie if Stewie wants to get a little bit mean out there," Boudreau said. "We hadn't had that secondary toughness, and I thought that was very important, and Gabes has given it to us."

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That physical style translated to numerous scoring chances Friday night against the Oilers. The Stewart-Graovac-Gabriel line started the game playing mostly against the opposing fourth line, and by the end of the night were clowning on whichever line they were out there against.

"I stopped caring who they were playing against, because they were doing a good job," Boudreau said.

"I'm pleasantly surprised because I wasn't sure what to expect," Boudreau added. "I wasn't sure what to expect with Stewie playing left wing. I wasn't sure what to expect from Gabes."

Graovac, who has centered the fourth line for most of the season with various wingers cycling in and out, said he has seen a marked improvement since Gabriel was called up from the minors.

Stewart said it isn't an accident that the line has been playing well.

"We have been working," he said. "As an older guy, I take pride in having us ready to play every night. And tip the hat to those guys because they've been soaking it in like sponges and asking questions and trying to get better. We are holding onto pucks down there. We are getting chances to score every night."

Now, the key is burying at least a couple of those scoring chances.

"There have been a couple times on the ice we're looking at each other when we have the puck and (it's nice) when we have that kind of chemistry," Graovac said. "It is something that normally takes some time, so we are lucky to have that feeling right now.

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"We are going to keep trying. And hopefully actually put one into the net."

Folin getting closer

After returning from injury faster than expected, Wild defenseman Christian Folin practiced fully Saturday afternoon. He also spent extra time after practice getting a few extra reps.

So could he play against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night?

"I don't know what the plan is," Boudreau said. "He is cleared to play, though."

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILDHOCKEY
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