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Zucker scores twice to lead Wild past Panthers 4-1

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) The Minnesota Wild started fast and finished strong.

Jason Zucker scored two goals to lead the Wild over the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Monday night.

Nino Niederreiter also scored for the Wild, and Mikko Koivu had two assists. Zach Parise added an empty-net goal with 1:29 left.

Minnesota scored two first-period goals, then held off a late surge by the Panthers to win for the fifth time in six games and end a three-game road trip with four points.

''Real pleased with the battle level right from the start; guys were very engaged in it,'' Wild coach Mike Yeo said. ''For a good part of the game, our game looked the way it was supposed to look.''

Niklas Backstrom, making his sixth start of the season, stopped 29 shots, including 16 in the third period.

''We played a solid team game and started really well,'' Backstrom said. ''It was a solid 60 minutes and a good team game.''

Shawn Thornton scored for the Panthers, and Roberto Luongo made 35 saves.

Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the first period and outshot the Panthers 13-5.

Zucker's first goal put the Wild ahead on their second shot of the game. Zucker took a pass from Koivu in the right circle, and his soft slap shot got under Luongo's pads at 5:58.

The Wild went up 2-0 when Niederreiter grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone after it got away from a Panthers player and put the puck high into the net with 2:17 left in the first. Niederreiter leads the Wild with 10 goals and has six in his past six games.

''I was surprised the puck went there (the neutral zone),'' Niederreiter said. ''I tried to take my backhand and it worked out.''

Luongo was coming off a season-high 48 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss at Nashville last Saturday.

''Obviously, not the start we wanted,'' Luongo said. ''I thought I could have been better on the first two goals. They both went right through me; not the type of goals I would like to allow.''

Florida closed to 2-1 on Thornton's goal at 5:34 of the second. Thornton redirected a shot by Dmitry Kulikov past Backstrom. Referee Ghislain Hebert initially ruled it no goal because of a high stick, but the goal was awarded after a video review. It was Thornton's first of the season and first with the Panthers.

The Wild stretched their lead to 3-1 on Zucker's second goal with 2:41 left in the second period. Zucker moved the puck in front and backhanded it off the post and into the net for his second multigoal game of the season.

''I just tried to get the puck on net, that's all that was,'' Zucker said. ''A lot of our mindset is just to shoot the puck and getting chances.''

The Panthers played their first home game after a four-game road trip, including three games on the West Coast, where they managed five points.

''There's no excuses,'' Luongo said. ''We were just not ready to play from the start of the game. We can't spot the other team two goals and expect to come back every night. That's not how this league works.''

NOTES: The Wild have won four of five and 11 of their last 14 against the Panthers, taking six of the past eight played in Florida. ... Niederreiter has 10 goals and three assists in the past 15 games. ... Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury.