Going into Game 1 of the Minnesota Wild’s play-in series against the Vancouver Canucks, many (including myself) were expecting the Vancouver offense to have a field day against a Wild team that struggled to keep pucks out of the net during the regular season.
Funny how things turn out.
Instead of succumbing to the Canucks’ electrifying young talent, the Wild completely shut them down and put together a convincing 3-0 shutout win to kick off the series. Jared Spurgeon, one of the best defensemen on the planet that no one seems to talk about, scored a pair of goals while Kevin Fiala scored his first of the postseason with a one-timed blast on the power play.
And then there was the play of Alex Stalock. In his first-ever postseason victory, the 33-year-old goaltender stopped all 28 shots the Canucks directed his way. Granted, his teammates also did a good job of helping to suppress high-danger scoring chances. The Wild were shorthanded for a grand total of just two minutes throughout the contest and consistently clogged the middle of the ice to force Vancouver to mainly take low-percentage shots from the point.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect game for the Wild by any means — they were badly outplayed early in the middle period before Spurgeon doubled the Minnesota lead on the power play around the game’s midway point. But still, it was an overwhelmingly impressive effort against a team that, on paper, seemed to match up quite well with the Wild.
With a win in Game 2, Minnesota could put the Canucks in an incredibly difficult position. Vancouver would need to win three straight games to stay alive, and in this day and age, that’s a rare occurrence — particularly in the postseason.
1. Can Stalock keep up the stellar play?
Alex Stalock was outstanding in Game 1, and if he can continue to play at that level in Game 2, the Wild will have a very good shot at walking out of Rogers Place with a two-game series lead. Stalock may not have much postseason experience — he had appeared in only four playoff games before Monday — but he certainly didn’t play like it on Sunday.
2. Will the Wild continue to minimize quality scoring chances?
As mentioned previously, a major reason why Stalock performed so well in Game 1 was due to the fact that he didn’t see an overwhelming amount of high-danger scoring chances. He was forced to make a few big saves from time to time, but the Wild did an excellent job of taking away traffic in front and giving Stalock a clear look at where the shots were coming from. Against a team like the Canucks, though, it may not be easy to pull that off in consecutive games, especially with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes on the ice. But the easier life is for Stalock, the easier life will be for the Wild.
3. Will the Wild stay out of the box again?
The Canucks had the fourth-best power play in the NHL during the regular season, and if they get an abundance of chances on the man advantage, they have the potential to do some serious damage. However, the Wild were very good at staying out of the penalty box in Game 1. The Canucks should have had three opportunities on the power play, but they ended up shooting themselves in the foot by taking a pair of silly penalties that resulted in two brief stretches of 4-on-4 play. So long as the Wild keep the Canucks power play off the ice, they’ll have a very good chance of minimizing their offensive success.
Puck drops at 9:45 p.m. CT. Get some caffeine ready and prepare for a fun matchup.