The Minnesota Wild’s quest for home ice advantage featured a Tuesday night non-conference matchup against ice-cold Montreal. Despite being the runner up last year, the Montreal Canadiens have been a much worse team this year. However things haven’t been completely terrible, especially since Martin St. Louis was brought in as head coach. With Montreal playing with nothing to lose, Minnesota would be tasked with earning two points in a contest that saw them enter as heavy favorites.
Losing Marcus Foligno to COVID meant that Minnesota’s bottom six would be looking slightly different, with an Iowa Wild alumni line of Duhaime, Dewar, and Chaffee rounding out the bottom line. The latter, Chaffee, would make his NHL debut. With Cam Talbot between the pipes, and looking to continue his streak of getting at least a point, the game got underway.
Minnesota came flying out of the gates. The first several shifts saw a few high quality chances, forcing Carey Price to make some great saves.
After a great shift by the Montreal top line that forced the Wild top line to ice the puck twice, Brendan Gallagher tripped Kaprizov and sent the Wild powerplay to the ice for the first time of the night.
After a Montreal killer lost his stick, Minnesota was able to work the puck down low uncontested. In the chaos it caused, Zuccarello was able to find Fiala to claim a 1-0 Minnesota lead and Fiala’s 30th of the year.
Montreal would get a chance to respond after Brodin was caught up with Tyler Pitlick. Unlike Minnesota, Montreal was unable to score. With just under three minutes left in the period, they would get another shot after Kulikov tripped Suzuki. Montreal’s second man advantage was worse than their first one, with the powerplay being quickly negated after a great play by Fiala and Gaudreau resulted in a penalty on Gallagher. Fiala was upset that he did not receive a penalty shot, but his pleading did not change the minds of the officials.
After the 4-on-4 expired, Minnesota had 43 seconds of powerplay. Montreal, just as Minnesota did to them, generated a great scoring chance. Tyler Pitlick got loose on a strange semi-breakaway but was shut down by Talbot.
The Wild did not capitalize on the remainder of the powerplay and Minnesota went into the intermission up one.
In the first few shifts of the second, Cam Talbot made some solid saves to get himself back into the game. He also got lucky that Josh Anderson missed him here.
After a period where nothing eventful happened, Rem Pitlick jumped around Spurgeon and found himself on a contested breakaway. With a great backcheck by Middleton, he was held to a fairly contained shot that Talbot made a solid save on. Minnesota’s play continued to slow down, and soon enough they were forced to pay. After a defensive zone turnover by Minnesota, Tyler Pitlick found a puck in the slot and beat Talbot, who was laying on the ice after being hit by a scrum. Minnesota quickly challenged the call for goaltender interference. After some deliberation, the goal was overruled and Minnesota maintained their one goal lead. The Montreal faithful were unhappy with the call, but considering Talbot had no chance to make the save, it appeared to be the correct call.
With the goal being erased, Minnesota needed to wake up if they wanted to pull away. For the rest of the period, they continued to look slow. By the time the period ended, they saw their shot advantage disappear. After both teams looked slow for the first half of the period, Montreal seemed to be the only team with an alarm set to wake up for the second half. Fortunately for Minnesota, they were able to reverse their goal against and rely on consistent play from Talbot on the back end.
Minnesota’s start to the third wasn’t much better than the end to their second. Turnovers and fatigue seemed to be their biggest enemy. However, just over two minutes into the period, the second line came up massive and continued their dominant streak. After an initial shot from Kevin Fiala, Matt Boldy was able to take a few stabs at the rebound, eventually finding the back of the net with a between the legs shot.
After the second goal, the chances were all Montreal. Minnesota seemed to check out, forcing Talbot to work much harder than he should’ve.
With just 8 minutes left in the game, Fiala took a tripping penalty on Suzuki. He was not thrilled with the call.
Just like their first attempt of the night, Montreal was kept off the board in a crucial moment. With three minutes left in regulation, Montreal found themselves in the box after a delay of game penalty.
A minute into the powerplay, Montreal took a tripping penalty which seemed to end any hopes they had of a comeback.
While the Wild were held scoreless on the final two powerplays, they held on for the 2-0 win and Cam Talbot’s third shutout of the year.
Despite what was by all accounts a poor performance against a much worse team, Minnesota did what good teams find a way to do: win. To be fair, much of Minnesota’s success could be traced back to Cam Talbot, who had an absolutely tremendous shutout. With much better teams on the horizon, the Wild will have to find another gear if they want to secure home ice advantage against St. Louis, who is playing their best hockey of the year right now.
Minnesota returns to the ice Thursday night against Vancouver in St. Paul.
What will the bottom of the roster look like?
All eyes tonight were on Mitchell Chaffee, the UMass alum who was making his NHL debut. After a great campaign in Iowa this year, Chaffee earned the call up over top prospect Marco Rossi, who for a combination of contractual and lineup-placement reasons remained in Iowa. For the role he was asked to play, I thought Chaffee looked sharp. His skill or speed are certainly not going to make him an NHLer by themselves, but he showed a willingness to finish checks and go to the net. As for the remainder of the jumbled bottom two lines, I think they’ve all had better nights. At 5-on-5, the third line (formerly known as the GREEF line) did not have the possession dominance they have at full strength. Considering the fourth line was made up entirely of rookies, they had a decent night.
Can a supernova Kevin Fiala stay that way?
If Wild fans have learned anything lately, it is to not doubt Kevin Fiala. With two points, including a huge goal that came at a time where Minnesota had nothing going for them, Fiala has been the Wild’s best player as of late. With secondary scoring a crucial part of a long playoff run, Minnesota is hoping Fiala’s fire can keep burning.
Think you could write a story like this? Hockey Wilderness wants you to develop your voice, find an audience, and we'll pay you to do it. Just fill out this form.