Entering the night a point back of the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot in the West, the Arizona Coyotes were going to come on strong entering the final regular season series against the Minnesota Wild. But it was the visitors in green and red that had a howling good time as the Minnesota Wild pulled away late in a decisive 5-2 victory. Kevin Fiala starred for the Wild with a goal on a two-point night, and Minnesota’s power play, a liability for much of the season, continued its hot streak with another two goals on three opportunities. Marcus Johansson earned the game-winner and Kirill Kaprizov matched and set some rookie records for the Wild with a first-period goal. Netminder Cam Talbot stopped 22 of 24 shots in a strong win.
In the first period, despite the importance of two points for both squads, neither team came out with a whole lot of fire with the Coyotes putting up the only shot for either team through the first seven minutes of the first. Marcus Foligno was the only Wild player to bring the heat early on, laying a big hit on Ilya Lyubushkin.
The game’s momentum changed in a big way after Jakob Chychrun got called for hooking and the red-hot Wild power play (which still sounds weird to say) took to the ice. Minnesota took a minute to get things going, but once they did, the result was a pretty around-the-horn tic-tac-toe, finished off by Kirill Kaprizov to put the Wild up 1-0.
More than giving the Wild the early lead, the goal was a milestone for everyone involved. Kevin Fiala earned his 100th career assist and Nick Bonino stretched his scoring streak to a career-high four games (two goals and five assists over that span), but it was Kaprizov who etched his name into the Wild’s record books, earning his 38th point - passing Marian Gaborik’s rookie scoring record, and tying Gaborik’s rookie mark of 17 goals.
Minnesota continued peppering ex-Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper with eight unanswered shots, but couldn’t get anything to go. The Coyotes, on the other hand, were able to shift the momentum by capitalizing on a terrible pass by Ryan Suter. Christian Fischer intercepted the Wild defenseman’s clearing pass and sniped past Cam Talbot’s shoulder to evening the score at 1 and tilting the ice in favor of Arizona for the rest of the period.
The second period was another story. Having killed a Coyotes power play that straddled the first intermission, Minnesota started putting the pressure on their former netminder. Kaprizov continued his strong play with a series of near-assists, the best chance coming after battling hard in the corner to win the puck and setting up Jared Spurgeon, but Kuemper shut the door.
Minutes later, the Wild reclaimed the lead on an odd-man rush. Foligno sold the shot brilliantly and found Jordan Greenway on the opposite post, who easily tapped it home past Kuemper, putting the Wild up 2-1.
Minnesota’s power play extended the lead when Marcus Johnasson jammed home a rebound off a Matt Dumba cannon blast.
The Wild looked to further pull away after Carson Soucy unleashed a shot that got past Kuemper thanks to a Foligno screen. Kuemper called foul believing he was interfered with, and the refs took a long look. In the end, incredibly, the refs overturned the goal saying that Foligno prevented Kuemper from playing his position in the crease.
I mean, Foligno wasn’t in the crease and Kuemper looked like he initiated the contact, but go off I guess. The goal came off the board, and the lead stayed at two.
In addition to the no-goal call, the referees seemed to be watching a totally different game most of the night. Ryan Hartman was hooked on a breakaway, Greenway was tackled without the puck, Foligno was interefered with behind the net by Kuemper... and that was all in the second period. No calls for any of them.
Soucy’s overturned goal would loom large early in the third period, as former Golden Gopher Alex Goligoski brought the Coyotes back within one on a point shot that deflected off Greenway and then fluttered past a screened Talbot. Like that, the Coyotes climbed back within one.
The Coyotes momentum wouldn’t last long. The Kevin Fiala-Ryan Hartman-Marcus Johansson line had a terrific shift, maintaining posession and getting chance after chance. They capitalized on the extended zone time when Soucy found Fiala with a beauty of a centering pass, which Fiala sniped home to give back the Wild their well-deserved two-goal lead.
The Wild tightened up the defense in the latter part of the third, but Greenway had a nice chance to extend the Wild lead. But Kuemper continued to be up to the task.
Down two and desperate, the Coyotes pulled Kuemper with about two and a half minutes left. After an icing call that kept the Wild on the ice without a needed change, Bonino won the important faceoff, and empty-net specialist Jonas Brodin dumped the puck the length of the ice and found center net to ice the game for the Wild.
This was the the game you wanted to see from the Wild against a possible playoff contender. Sure, the Coyotes matched the Wild in shots and the advanced stats will say that Arizona had the edge in possession and expected goals, but Minnesota did what they needed to do when they needed to do it to win the game in decisive fashion, and they looked good getting it done. And even better, the emergence of the power play as a reliable offense generator instead of a liability is a welcome surprise.
Now if they can only get back to their five-on-five game that looked so strong in February and March.
They’ll get one final crack at the Coyotes on Wednesday night from Gila River Arena in Scottsdale, Arizona. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Can the Wild weather Arizona’s high-pressure forechecking system?
Justin did a great job breaking down the unique “Two-high” forecheck the Coyotes employ, which forces a defensive team to be accurate leaving the zone, whether skating or passing the puck. For the most part, the Wild were able to adapt to Arizona’s system - with the obvious exception of the Coyotes’ first goal, where Ryan Suter’s outlet pass was badly intercepted leading to Fischer’s game-tying goal.
Otherwise, it wasn’t the zone clears that gave the Wild trouble in the first period, it was maintaining offensive zone pressure and turnovers at the offensive blue line. Once they were able to get a handle on those issues, Minnesota was able to get the looks on net they needed to put the game out of reach.
Can the Wild stay out of the box?
Yes, but it wasn’t hard to stay out of the box on a night when the refs had their whistles firmly buried in their pockets. Stripes only called four penalties all night, three on Arizona, and one on the Wild’s Ian Cole. But the vaunted Wild power play took advantage of two of the three times with the extra attacker, improving their season power play percentage to 18% - amazing considering they hovered in the high single digits for most of 2021.
What to do with Fiala-Johansson-Hartman?
Dean Evason didn’t change the lines coming into tonight’s game, and the decision seemed to pay off for the Wild. Each of Minnesota’s top three lines had strong moments. Kirill Kaprizov was his normal dynamic self and battled hard all over the ice. Greenway-Eriksson Ek-Foligno had a terrific game for the Wild both offensively and defensively. But it was the Fiala-Hartman-Johansson line that led the team in Corsi for percentage at 5 on 5 and brought the offense when the Wild needed critical goals. Johansson’s scrappy second-period power play goal ended up being the game-winner, and Fiala’s insurance tally came after Hartman’s line had a very strong offensive zone shift, cycling the puck well and earning look after look. Soucy contributed to a great deal of the success on that shift, but Hartman, Johansson and Fiala were the engine. And had the tables been turned there with the Coyotes tying the game instead of Fiala reestablishing the two goal lead, with the way Arizona was coming hard to get the lead, I think we’d be lamenting a come-from-behind loss instead of a decisive victory.