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  • Recap: Wild soak up Oilers, earn decisive 5-3 win


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    A game like this hasn’t happened in a while for the Minnesota Wild — and we needed to see it, so damn bad.

    Last season, the Wild sprinkled in these performances where they took on Goliaths of the league and peppered and peppered them and aggressively took them down to make them feel small. Minnesota had its first true performance like that again tonight as they took a commanding 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

    Kirill Kaprizov said Hell no, Connor and demanded that he be crowned the best No. 97 in the sport tonight, scoring a goal and two assists and never gave up trying to get more. Linemates Mats Zuccarello (one goal and an assist) and Sam Steel (one goal) contributed as well. But it wasn’t just one line that pushed the Wild to this win, but Joel Eriksson Ek putting his entire two-way resume on display and getting one goal and an assist while stifling the offense of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

    Marc-Andre Fleury made several key stops — when the Oilers did actually get some scoring chances — to keep the Wild in this game and saved 18 of the 21 shots on goal he did face. The Oilers were just too terrible defensively to prevent the Wild from putting their cycle to work and too inconsistent offensively to ever attempt a comeback. A hell of a game.

    The first period started fairly even. The Oilers top-end firepower was silent to begin with, and the Wild were just attempting to try and test out the unsure netminder Jack Campbell to see what he’s all about and if he can safely make even medium-danger attempts.

    Minnesota was pushing their way deep into Oilers territory, and Joel Eriksson Ek was doing an adequate job at stifling Connor McDavid’s offense by being his typical hyper-aware self. But unfortunately, with Jon Merrill taking the Wild’s second penalty of the period, the dangerous Edmonton power play went to work and Leon Draisaitl opened the scoring.

    I mean, I know penalty killing is already hard, but what are you supposed to do when McDavid and co. makes passes like that so swiftly and precisely?

    Despite these two teams being led by hyper-charged superstars, the offense was fairly mellow for the rest of the first frame. It finished with six shots on goal going to the Wild and four to the Oilers. That ratio between the two teams continued with 5-on-5 shot attempts (15-7 Wild), scoring chances (7-3 Wild), and high-danger attempts (2-1 Wild). So it was a very good period by the home team, but they just got fooled on the special teams and the fearsome Oilers attack got that first bite in.

    Thankfully, this game didn’t just start to get away from the home dudes and the Wild were rewarded for their effort (got a chance on the power play) and made it count (scored on said power play).

    Joel Eriksson Ek scored his seventh goal of the season just a couple minutes into the second period, after Kaprizov drew Campbell out of his net and the bounce off the boards led the puck straight to the stick of the goal scorer. All things were tied with two power play goals.

    But, with the explosive power that the Oilers possess, and what the Wild’s defense had to deal with all game long, they were able to quicky snatch away the draw and go back up by a single goal with an odd-man rush featuring two of the best hockey players on the planet.

    Maybe it’s not a great idea to somehow let McDavid and Draisaitl get so much ice and on an odd-man rush — because, well, that is basically a guaranteed goal unless prime Nicklas Lidstrom is back there against those folks.

    With the lead, the Oilers started to press more aggressively and get some better scoring chances than what the Wild and Marc-Andre Fleury had to deal with in the first 20 minutes. Pulling the magnetism of the shot attempts more into their favor, by keeping their choice of shot attempts basically right in front of the Minnesota goaltender.

    Some close calls, but the Wild were able to keep the distance just a single goal’s worth. Just in time for another power play and for Boldy and Kaprizov to combine on this insane play that demonstrates why they are the two most talented members of this team right now.

    The control of the puck is absurd from both players. Kaprizov on the finish certainly, but for Boldy to get that puck quickly with the incoming Oilers defender, is frame-perfect and just so beautiful to watch.

    Seeing moves like that pay off must have been inspiring for every other player on the Wild bench, as just a couple minutes later, Frederick Gaudreau pulls a trick of his own with the puck and pops a goal behind Campbell to give his team the lead for the first time in this game.

    Gaudreau was just getting off the bench when linemate Nic Petan got possession of the puck, saw the eventual goal scorer streak through the middle of the ice past a slow Oilers defender and had one of his few displays of elite offense.

    It happens every once in a while with these Minnesota depth players. Sometimes it’s Ryan Hartman looking like a young Ovechkin, or Gaudreau deking his way through an entire team; but every so often there is a moment like this that we just need to savor.

    The Wild kept on pressing to close out the second period and were the much better team in the final half of the middle frame. Edmonton didn’t know how to answer their consistent cycle and the aggressive pressure they applied whenever they lost the puck. The Oilers seemed lost and it was just so good to see the Wild of last year for a relatively brief moment. After 40 minutes, the Wild had a 17-10 shot on goal advantage, and a 31-21 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts. Controlling.

    And the third period rewarded the Wild for the effort that earned them the one-goal lead in the first place. The top line dominated all game long — finishing the game with 76 percent of the shot attempts and 86.84 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5 — and not just in those underlying metrics, but in actual goals scored as well. To open the third period, Zuccarello fed his center Sam Steel a near-perfect saucer pass for him to deal with and deke around Campbell with and get his fifth of the season.

    Steel might just be the answer in between Zuccarello and Kaprizov. Well, right now, he is doing exactly what is needed of him and looks like someone that was drafted in the first round and is just coming into his prime at the age of 24. All he needed was a push into the top center spot to really flourish, I guess.

    And with a two-goal lead for Minnesota, Fleury must have felt really comfortable and wanted to use his glove to grab a pop-puck.

    The ending of the sequence was a little nerve-racking, but nevertheless, Fleury managed to keep the puck out of the net, even if he dropped it out of his glove.

    Just to make us all that more warm and comfy, Matt Dumba launched a wrister through minimal traffic and Zuccarello managed to get some deflection and put it behind.

    Ignore the tweet. The goal was eventually given to Zuccarello from Dumba and Kaprizov, but it still counts and gave the Wild a hell of a gap that they could ride back on.

    But they didn’t even do that! Minnesota kept pressuring and pressuring the visiting Oilers — just consistently being a thorn in any Edmonton player’s side if they had the puck, and if a Wild player had the puck, they were evading any opposing pressure. Just a dominant performance that is something we needed to see desperately. A complete and full-team performance where all 12 forwards did their part through all situations and the defense and goaltender kept the Oilers’ stars at bay.

    And whatever, even with the Oilers scoring a goal in the final seconds to make the score line look not that impressive, it is still an incredible performance by the whole damn Minnesota Wild.

    Next, the host the pretty-bad Anaheim Ducks on Saturday to extend this feel-good moment.

    Burning Questions

    Does Connor McDavid let loose without Jonas Brodin as his shadow?

    Technically, McDavid did walk away with a goal and an assist in this game, but if it was not for Joel Eriksson Ek, he probably would have had much more. Yes, Jonas Brodin is known to be that similar suffocating player on the blue line, but the answer at center did an adequate job defensively and was crucial for the win. He still got loose at times, but the Wild quickly silenced him later in the game.

    Can Boldy continue his little scoring streak?

    Hell yeah. Boldy earned an assist on Kaprizov’s power play tally, so he now has six points in his last four games. But he is not the only streaker in the Wild’s lineup right now.

    Kaprizov just broke the Wild’s franchise record for most consecutive games with an assist, with nine games in a row. And Joel Eriksson Ek technically doesn’t have a streak going on, but with two points tonight, the two-way phenom has nine points in his last six games, including four two-point performances, now. A whole lot of forward talent is getting it done recently.

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