After their Tuesday night game against Carolina was postponed because of a COVID outbreak, Minnesota entered the ring with the Buffalo Sabres on a two game losing streak. With losses to Los Angeles and Vegas, the Minnesota Wild were hoping to regain some momentum against an Eastern Conference opponent they had not faced since before the pandemic.
Both teams came flying out of the gates. The teams exchanged chances until a Freddy Gaudreau penalty put Minnesota a man down. The Wild’s kill got off to a good start with Buffalo getting very few looks. Unfortunately, a Foligno clearing attempt caught Jeff Skinner up high.
Despite the momentum from the kill, Minnesota found themselves getting outshot handedly. The flow of the game did not feel as lopsided as the shots, but Minnesota’s play was going to have to take a step if they wanted to find a goal. A Greenway hit seemed to turn the tides.
Soon enough, it happened. A great shift by the GREEF line was followed by another dominant shift by the top line. Eventually, a Merrill point shot beat UPL and the Wild took a 1-0 lead.
Despite the lead, Buffalo did not go away. Talbot was forced to make several great saves to keep the lead.
Buffalo’s surge continued, causing an odd-man rush that forced a holding penalty and sent Buffalo to the man advantage. Without continued amazing saves from Talbot, the Wild wouldn’t have killed it off.
For the rest of the period, Talbot held strong and kept the lead despite a weak defensive period for Minnesota. Shots after one were a whopping 19-6 in favor of Buffalo. If the losing streak was going to end, Minnesota was going to have to turn the game around.
A huge hit from Matt Dumba on Kyle Okposo in the first few seconds of the second was a clear attempt to change the momentum.
The assistant captain’s effort seemed to pay off, with Minnesota heavily controlling the first several minutes of play. Buffalo’s first shot of the period didn’t come until 8 minutes into the period. The shot, unfortunately for Minnesota, directed itself to the point where it was put back on net. Dylan Cozens redirected the point shot, beating Cam Talbot and tying the game.
On the following shift, the GREEF line came up huge once again. Foligno drove the puck to the net and created a scrum, resulting in a double minor high sticking call on Dahlin. His stick caught Eriksson Ek up high to continue his insane stretch of drawing penalties. The Wild would have the chance to reclaim their lead on the man advantage. Despite four minutes to capitalize, Minnesota came up empty handed.
After the teams returned to even strength, the game really tightened up. Neither team had very many chances, mostly due to an abundance of sloppy plays on both sides of the ice. However, with a minute left in the period, Krill Kaprizov broke his two game point drought to reclaim a Wild lead.
This wasn’t UPL’s first leak of the night, with another one coming just two minutes earlier.
Luckily, the second time was the charm.
After a fairly slow second, the Wild maintained their one goal lead heading into the third. Even though the second period had moments that lacked action, Minnesota would have to come out flying for the third to curb a Buffalo team that would be looking to capitalize on a game that they had outplayed their opponent in.
Minnesota got off to a great start in the third. Great shifts by the GREEF line, the Sturm line, and the Hartman line all got Minnesota some momentum. A missile by Hartman beat UPL but not the post, so the game remained even.
A few minutes later, Talbot did his best UPL impression and let a puck trickle through. Fortunately Jon Merrill was there to push it back to him, keeping Talbot’s exceptional night rolling. Several minutes into the period, Jarod Spurgeon disappeared from the Wild bench. He played his first shift of the period and was not seen afterwords.
The Wild seemed fine without Spurgeon, but as the period continued the defense made mistakes that ultimately cost the team. A very poor defensive shift from the fourth line and third pair led to several great Buffalo chances, with the final one ending up behind Talbot.
Even though the last few minutes of play had been fairly dry, the Wild were going to have to wake up if they wanted to collect any points. Buffalo’s goal seemed to ignite both teams and chances started to emerge both ways.
After a shaky start, UPL started to shut down everything Minnesota was generating. Buffalo seemed to charge from this and it quickly began to seem like Minnesota was going to be in trouble.
With less than 15 seconds to go, UPL made a great save on Foligno in front of the net. The ensuing offensive zone faceoff resulted in an offensive zone draw with 4.2 seconds left. After Eriksson Ek lost the draw, the teams were launched into OT.
After a chaotic overtime with great performances from Tage Thompson and Kevin Fiala, the teams headed to a shootout. Unlike many overtimes this year, this one was packed with action. The game could have been decided on what felt like seven different plays.
Zuccarello started the shootout with a miss. Olofsson followed it with a miss. Fiala was denied by the stick of UPL. Okposo was denied on an almost identical shot as Fiala had. Kaprizov stepped up as the Wild’s third shooter and rang iron.
Following the miss, Tage Thompson came down and faked Talbot down, elevating the puck over his glove side to grab two points for the Sabres.
Even though they got a point, this was not a game the Wild are going to be proud of. They came into the game with rest and as heavy favorites against a weak Buffalo roster. Their effort seemed to be lacking for most of the night. Perhaps most importantly, Jared Spurgeon left the game with an injury and did not return.
One positive of the night was the play of Talbot. His game has completely taken a 180 after mid-November. This game was no fault of his and he is probably the most responsible for the team extracting a point from a very ugly performance.
Can the Wild’s defense get back to jelling?
After a terrible period where the defensive unit gave up chances left and right, they were able to clean up their game. Either way, they were bailed out many times by Talbot. While shots aren’t everything, giving up 19 in a period is seldom a good thing. Turnovers were a major issue tonight, but that wasn’t just limited to the defensive unit.
Can Moose keep on charging?
The GREEF line was hands down the best line tonight. They consistently brought physicality to a game that was otherwise very dull and lacked emotion.
As for Moose himself, he did what he is supposed to do. While he was kept silent on the scoresheet, he registered five hits and two shots. It’s safe to say Moose and his line were a bright spot in an ugly night.