After an exciting trade deadline that saw the acquisition of three new members, two of whom would see action Thursday night (Marc-Andre Fleury not starting), the Minnesota Wild hoped to keep their solid of late (5-1-1 in the last seven) play alive against a Vancouver Canucks team entering desperation mode in their search for a playoff spot. Aside from the storyline of the new additions for Minnesota, an old friend in former coach Bruce Boudreau returned to Minnesota behind the bench for the first time since he was let go by the Wild. After arriving to Minnesota in the middle of the night and playing a game last night, Minnesota had no excuses for not taking care of business.
Less than a minute into the game, Marcus Foligno made sure fans didn’t forget that he could fight, getting into a spirited bout with Luke Schenn.
The fight set a clear tempo for the game, with both teams swapping chances and line rushes. Eventually, a 3-1 that was stopped led to a wide open Bo Horvat in front of the net, beating Cam Talbot over the glove to go up 1-0.
With Foligno in the box, Vancouver took advantage of the scrambled lines by stringing together several offensive zone shifts. Seven and a half minutes into the game, Minnesota had not yet registered a shot, albeit Vancouver blocked several. However, it only took one to return the game to a tie. After a great cycling display by the top line, Ryan Hartman found Kaprizov in the slot. Kaprizov then put a puck glove side for his 33rd of the year.
While the score was tied, Minnesota looked sloppy. Their effort was there, but there were countless missed passes, miscommunications, and other uncharacteristically poor plays. In the last five minutes, Minnesota completely cleaned up their play and saw most of the remainder of the period played in their offensive zone. In the final minute of the period, Greenway and Ekman-Larsson took roughing penalties after Greenway drove to the net hard.
After falling behind early, Minnesota’s play steadily improved as the period went on. To win the game, Minnesota would have to continue the possession that they established later in the period. With much fresher legs, the Wild had the power to make life miserable for a likely exhausted Vancouver team.
Less than two minutes into the second, Minnesota found the lead. Off a faceoff loss, the puck bounced off Demko’s pad right to Fiala’s stick. After spinning and firing a shot, he beat Demko far side to move the score to 2-1.
Following the goal, a massive shift by the fourth line swung the momentum even more in Minnesota’s favor. The following shift by the third line saw several massive hits on Vancouver players, including a highlight reel hit by Dumba stepping down on an unsuspecting winger. The trend of the game being all Minnesota continued as the period progressed. It didn’t take long for them to capitalize again. With a delayed penalty, Jon Merrill threw a puck around a screen and increased the Minnesota lead to two. However, the goal was quickly overturned for offsides after Fiala (far before the goal was scored) was ruled offsides. Minnesota, instead of receiving a goal, was sent to the powerplay.
Things continued to go Minnesota’s way until Zuccarello found himself in the penalty box for high sticking. Minnesota was able to kill the penalty and maintained their one goal lead heading into the second intermission. Minnesota controlled the period, but was unable to capitalize on their possession advantage.
Minnesota controlled the first few minutes of the third but quickly saw the momentum evaporate as Jordan Greenway took a delay of game penalty. After an amazing sliding save by Talbot and some good clears, Minnesota was able to complete the kill and retain the lead. Soon after, Minnesota saw themselves a man down again after Zuccarello’s stick caught Hughes up high. Five seconds into the man advantage, JT Miller beat Talbot to tie the game.
Shortly after the game was tied, Minnesota was given a chance on the powerplay after Hartman was cross-checked by Horvat.
Minnesota had a huge chance to even the special teams advantage Vancouver had just taken. Despite generating good chances, the Wild were once again unable to convert. The final ten minutes of the game began to feel even more like a playoff game than the already high octane first 50 minutes. Both teams fought to the death for every puck, much to the amusement of fans at the Xcel Energy Center.
The tight-checking hockey continued until the end of regulation, where both teams finished gridlocked at two.
As the puck dropped for OT, Vancouver rushed down the ice and possessed the puck. After JT Miller hit the post, the puck came flying the other way after it was headmanned by Brodin to Kaprizov. Kaprizov found a streaking Eriksson Ek who went down on a breakaway, beating Demko less than 30 seconds into the extra frame. The Wild, after recovering from a one goal deficit, earning a lead of their own, and then blowing it, found a hard earned two points.
This was a game between two teams that are in crucial points of the season and each team played like it. Vancouver gave the Wild a playoff-simulation with their physical blueline putting Wild forwards on the ice left and right. Despite the high intensity of the game, the Wild felt in control for its majority.
Talbot had another good night, improving to 6-1-1 in his last eight.
After getting a shot in the arm at the deadline, this team is starting to feel special again.
Does Middleton make an impact? On someone’s face, anyway?
Middleton had a solid night in my opinion. After being out there for Vancouver’s early goal, where the puck went off him and found a wide open player in the slot, I thought he brought physicality and stability to the back end. Aside from having several wipeouts, which looked like bad edges more than anything, he limited his mistakes and made consistent “playoff hockey” plays with the puck. His chemistry with Spurgeon needs work, but that will come with time.
What wishy-washy Wild special teams will show up tonight?
The Wild lost the special teams battle again tonight. The powerplay was shut out, yet again, but did have flashes. It seems like it might be time to try to arrange units again instead of just rolling lines.
The penalty kill had a good night aside from Miller’s tying goal, which was a well run faceoff play.