Were the Minnesota Wild just teasing us this whole time? A big sike-out leading to the eventual brotherly landing blow on your shoulder? Well it sure seems that way.
Of course, teams go through ebbs and flows the entire regular season, but with the Wild at their no-doubt lowest point this year, losing eight of their previous 10 games heading into Tuesday’s matchup against the New York Rangers, everything felt real. It felt that there was finally an end to the magic that this team was able to pull off — the swaying percentages were finally returning back to normal and we will have to revert to the good-not-great Minnesota team.
One single and decisive win doesn’t change the previous games, but it does scrub away a little bit of the grime that left us wondering if this team was going to fall apart. Led by a pair of goals from Kevin Fiala, some top-tier playmaking from Mats Zuccarello and Matt Boldy, and the triumphant return of the GREEF line; the Wild were able to take advantage of one of the worst even-strength defenses in the league and simply will their way past them to a 5-2 victory.
So how did it exactly go down? Well let me tell you.
The Wild started out red-hot. They clearly had a point to prove and were not going to let even some of the best offensive players scare them into a conservative style of play. This was Minnesota’s first game with a fully healthy lineup since last November and it was extremely evident from puck drop. The four rolling forward lines and the complete blue line were pushing the Rangers back into their own zone, laying on shots from everywhere upon Alexandar Georgiev and did not relent until they were able to find twine.
Ryan Hartman opened the scoring with a very early-season Ryan Hartman goal.
The mid-range wrister between two defenders gave the Wild enough spark to just keep on rolling. Just over four minutes after Hartman scored the opener, Joel Eriksson Ek was able to net this quintessential goal assisted by Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway.
It is the perfect GREEF goal. A five-man transitional rush that began 200 feet away from Georgiev, found its way from Greenway pawing it down, handing it to Foligno to unload a vicious shot from deep and Eriksson Ek was right there for the perfect deflection to double the Wild’s lead.
The 2-0 lead would stay until the end of the first period, but then in the second frame things got a little dicey. While we were feeling so high and mighty, Dryden Hunt (who?) scored 5:03 into the second period, and then, just of course, Mika Zibanejad got a shorthanded breakaway to tie it.
There just had to be a humbling goal and brief moment for the Wild to crumble under some pressure — the “oh yeah this is the team we’ve seen recently” minute. And it did just last one single minute, as Kevin Fiala was able to convert on the man advantage in which Zibanejad scored the shorty.
With chaos in front of goal, Matt Boldy just simply snuck in there and tucked it away for Fiala to score a beauty with an open goal.
And the Wild just kept on rolling with Foligno getting in on the scoring with a beauuuuutiful stretch pass from Matt Dumba and a tidy finish.
And — we’re still in the second period, folks — Fiala was able to score his 20th of the season with an extremely clean play from Zuccarello.
And the third period was completely uneventful, so I won’t even discuss it (not that I’m complaining about the Wild having an easy 20 minutes).
It is not only that the Wild were able to earn the full two points, but to come back from what could have been a dangerous second period as Zibanejad scored that equalizer, and to break through any concerns, still earning that win, could tell us more about where this team will be going in the future. They can now score goals despite some concerning streaks.
Cam Talbot saved 23 of 25 shots he faced, boosting that disappointing save percentage and potentially reclaiming the full-time starter role. On his return back from injury, Greenway earned two assists, and Foligno had a three-point night.
Minnesota continues their busy, condensed schedule with the first half of a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, before facing the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. Two beatable teams that could give this team a little bit of a confidence bump before the decisive trade deadline on March 21.
Can they even attempt to beat Igor Shesterkin?
Well, they didn’t even face him (sorry) but I thought they scored some pretty dang beautiful goals to make us feel way better about their overall offense.
Will the defense be good enough to keep the Rangers under three goals?
Hey! They did exactly that! The Rangers are completely reliant on two things: the goaltending of Shesterkin, and their top-tier power play. The Wild did not have to face either, so this might be a little bit of a shrewd move on their part — and a little bit of a paper tiger situation — but hey, a win is a win and it feels better with the opponent having to rely on a defensive fuck up and a shorthanded goal to even come close.