There were several major storylines to track going into tonight’s game: will the Minnesota Wild clinch a playoff spot? They only needed one point going into tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks. Will Kaapo Kahkonen get to play against his former team, the Wild? The answer to that ended up being no as they had in play the game the night before, but Cam Talbot and Kahkonen got a sweet reunion on-ice during warmups.
This is also Jake Middleton’s first showdown after the trade deadline against his former team.
Minnesota came into tonight’s game with a number of injuries: Matt Dumba, Jordan Greenway, Jon Merrill, and Tyson Jost all sitting out. Dean Evason decided to give Nick Bjugstad a chance at filling in for Greenway on the GREEF line.
Connor Dewar has been solid every time he’s been called up, so while we’ll absolutely miss Jost, there was reason to think Dewar would be perfectly serviceable. But man, the GREEF line needs every piece of those three players to create their absolute physical shut-down magic, the Big Rig’s shoes are, uhhh, big shoes for Bjugstad to fill.
And the major question that has plagued us all season: can Minnesota stay out of the penalty box?
Ultimately, however, the story of the game was simple: Kevin Fiala. King among men.
To start off the scoring, Matt Boldy created a loose puck, got it to Fiala who passed it to Dmitry Kulikov who scored.
This is quickly followed up by a top shelf goal from my captain, Jared Spurgeon.
Unfortunately, total Wild dominance didn’t last and the Sharks got on the board after Thomas Bordeleau (in his NHL debut) got the puck from Freddy Gaudreau and passed it to Rudolfs Balcers who scored.
Defensively, the Boldy-Gaudreau-Fiala line was incredibly solid throughout the first, eliminating some big scoring chances from San Jose.
They ended the first 2-1, good guys. Wild outshot Sharks 11-6.
At 18:41 left in the second, Matt Nieto took advantage of an ugly giveaway from Mats Zuccarello and slid the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury and tied up the game.
Not long after, Bjugstad took a penalty and the Wild went on the kill. Fiala created a dangerous short-handed goal chance and Scott Reedy was called for hooking Fiala in the process and they managed to turn it into a 4 on 4.
Minnesota couldn’t score in the remaining 40 seconds they got of power play after the 4-on-4 ends, but soon after Matt Boldy broke the tie with a wrister after scooping the puck out of traffic.
Very quickly after that, Deslauriers drew a power play – I gotta say, I don’t imagine we’ll get the combo for long when Greenway and Jost get healthy again, but I do like the Dewey’s and D-Lo on the 4th line.
Noah Gregor tied it with about 9 minutes of the second left, despite Fleury’s best efforts as he practically did a cartwheel trying to stop it.
Not long after, Zuccarello flubbed it again and got a penalty called on him. (Absolutely mystifyingly rough period for Zucc.) During this PK, the illusive and impossible to understand goalie-interference call made an appearance as Jonathan Dahlen pushed Fleury’s right pad over the goal line. A bit later, Fleury made a great save around the side of the net and stopped the puck just as the PK ended.
Fiala then drew a power play and after the first minute Joel Eriksson Ek got a holding penalty, sending the teams to a 4 vs. 4 again.
The kill nearly took them to the end of the second – only thirty seconds remained after. I’m sure every member of the Wild was grateful for a chance to regain some momentum for the third as the Sharks outshot the Wild in the second 15-6.
55 seconds into the third, Minnesota got its 4th power play of the game. Former Wild player Nick Bonino capitalized off an odd-man rush and scored, putting San Jose ahead of Minnesota for the first time. Even though I love drama, I do my best not to be too dramatic, but man oh man, Minnesota’s special teams feel like a disaster right now.
Fiala continued to carry the weight of the game on his back as he tied it halfway through the third with a pass from Jordie Benn through traffic. That was Benn’s third assist in 5 games: not what those of us with an anti-Jordie Benn agenda want to hear. Benn aside, I cannot overstate how good the Boldy-Gaudreau-Fiala line was this game when just about no one else showed up.
Minnesota went to the power play for a fifth time when Timo Meier got mad and just shoved Ryan Hartman over? Everyone felt really confident this would go well:
With 2:30 left, at a point in the game when Minnesota absolutely could not allow another San Jose goal, Middleton knocked a puck from Meier without tripping him up. Bonkers play, I’ll rewatch it forever.
And not with a bang but with a whimper, Minnesota clinched a playoff spot by stretching this miserable game to overtime. Cue an Easter joke about rising from the dead in the third period?
Minnesota won it with a goal that was originally credited to Fiala but changed to Spurgeon post-game – regardless a 4-point night for Fiala and he played just remarkably the whole way through.
Minnesota clinched a playoff spot, Minnesota’s special teams are still an utter mess but they remain solid 5 v 5, first-line all but missing this game, and Kevin Fiala extension when???? :(
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