Whoa! What a game that was!
It was back-and-forth, had a tense, playoff-like feel, and was chock full of juicy storylines on which to chew. The only problem was that the good guys—for a second game in a row—came out shootout losers to the Nashville Predators on another absolute bulls**t move by Ryan Johansen that—as a goalie—I would argue should not be allowed.
It’s currently within the rules, though, so Wild players should really start practicing this one.
On a night that Kevin Fiala returned to Nashville for the first time since being acquired by the Wild, the young Swiss winger lived up to the “gamebreaker” monicker given to him by GM Paul Fenton after the trade. Fiala was the best player on the ice, electric every time he touched the puck. He looked fast, physical, and very crafty, and you could tell that he really wanted to make a statement against his old team. Fiala was rewarded with two goals, including the tying goal in the closing minutes, but was robbed of a hat trick in overtime and hit the inside of the post in the shootout.
It was obviously a disappointing finish for the guys in green and white, but gee whiz what a game, and what a hard-earned point by Minnesota.
The Predators came out absolutely flying to start the game, as Minnesota was visibly on its heels in the opening minutes. It didn’t take long for them to cash-in either, as Craig Smith picked up a Matt Donovan rebound and fired home his 17th of the season at the 1:48 mark, before twirling his stick and holstering it like a sword. What a dink.
After the early goal, something called Josef Newgarden—apparently an Indycar Driver—joined Pierre McGuire between benches, because why not? Needless to say, those watching the NBCSN broadcast at home were treated to a first period full of very poor attempts by McGuire to connect the two sports in a witty fashion. It was must-see TV, as I’m sure you can imagine. But I digress.
After ten minutes of domination by the Predators, and an equal amount of cringing as a result of Pierre’s ongoing interview, the tides started to turn slightly. After Minnesota had peppered Pekka Rinne for a bit, Smith fumbled a puck at his own blueline. Fiala jumped on it, raced in (Indycar pun intended) toward P.K. Subban, who backed up almost into Rinne. Fiala made a quick move to his left, and fired home his first goal in a Wild uniform on Rinne’s short side, before letting out a Ric-Flair-style WOOOO!
With the Wild pissing away their first power play of the night (the PP would be really bad throughout) in the final two minutes, the teams would go to the dressing room even at 1-1.
The first half of the second period was relatively quiet, as both sides seemed to be taking a tighter-checking approach. Around the mid-way point, things started to open up again, though, and a Nashville rush led to a Jason Zucker slashing penalty. On the ensuing power play for the Preds, Subban wristed a shot from the point that looked to cleanly find its way around a screening Brian Boyle and into the net, although the goal would later be credited to Boyle. The power play tally came at 13:38 and made it a 2-1 game.
A few minutes later, another former Predator would score his first goal in a Wild sweater, as Jared Spurgeon sent a beautiful pass across the neutral zone to Jordan Greenway, who entered the offensive zone and laid it back for a trailing Pontus Aberg. Aberg shot from just inside the blueline, beating Rinne and tying the game again, which is where the score would remain through the second intermission.
Two minutes into the third, Wild fans experienced a bit of a scare, as Smith fell onto the right leg of Jason Zucker. The leg bent in a weird way, and Zucker was having a hard time putting weight on it as he was helped to the bench. Fortunately, he returned a few minutes later, looking a bit hobbled, but able to move. The Wild appear to have dodged a bullet there.
Just after the injury, Minnesota’s fourth line made its presence known. With Marcus Foligno given infinite time and space behind the net, he found a crashing Eric Fehr in the slot, who rifled home a one-timer for his second goal in as many games. The marker gave Minnesota its first (and only) lead of the game, but it would be short-lived. Just seconds later, Roman Josi took the puck at the left point, juked around Aberg, and made a world-class drive all the way to the crease, throwing it off the far post and in.
Next, Viktor Arvidsson separated Jonas Brodin from the puck at the redline, streaked down the right side, and snapped it toward Dubnyk. With no traffic and nobody crashing, it was one that Dubnyk probably should have had, but it squeaked through his right armpit. 4-3 Predators mid-way through the third.
With just a couple minutes left and the Wild pressing, a timeout was called, and as play resumed, Dubnyk remained on the bench. Eric Staal won the first face-off out of the timeout and pulled the puck to his left. It caromed to Fiala, who quickly fired a perfect… and I mean PERFECT… shot off the crossbar and down. Tie game, Fiala’s second of the night, and you can’t make this stuff up.
A couple minutes into overtime, Ryan Donato came across the blueline and cut to the middle. When he did, our old friend Mikael Granlund put his stick across Donato‘s hands, earning him two minutes in the box. On the power play, Fiala was robbed of the hat trick by a screened Rinne glove save, but the Wild failed to capitalize for the fourth time on the manpower advantage.
After Kyle Turris, Fiala, Ryan Ellis, Aberg, Filip Forsberg, and Parise all missed in the shootout, Johansen scored his joke of a goal. Donato could have tied, but put it into Rinne’s pads.
It’s tough to be on the losing end of that one, but man was it a great game, and man is this Wild team suddenly fun to watch again.