Nothing else like it.
For the second time in two games, the Minnesota Wild found themselves down in the dying minutes of the third period.
For the second time in two games, they found themselves improbably victorious as well.
Maybe it’s in poor taste to even doubt this team at this point.
It was a barnburner of a start to another heated affair against the Vegas Golden Knights, with Joel Eriksson Ek drawing first blood off the rush:
But hockey is a cruel mistress, and if you have the gall to use your coach’s challenge on a potential goal to check for goalie interference, it can take everything away from you. That is precisely what Dean Evason did.
With the referees finding nothing amiss with that equalizing tally from Shea Theodore, the goal was awarded, and the Wild found themselves with the World’s Worst Consolation Prize™ of a delay of game penalty. On that ensuing penalty kill, Alec Martinez gave the Golden Knights their first lead of the game;
It was a lead that didn’t last for long, as Nick Bonino knotted the game at two goals apiece a mere 1:43 later;
Four goals in just over four minutes. This may come as a surprise, but when two top-ten offenses come together — the Wild are ranked 3rd in the league with 3.28 GF/GP, while the Golden Knights 8th with 3.37 — goals are sure to be commonplace. Unfortunately for the Wild, the Knights weren’t quite done scoring in the first.
Alex Tuch is quickly gaining notoriety as a thorn in Minnesota’s side, having notched 4 points in 6 games against the Wild this season. The former Wild draft pick added a goal in his seventh game, off of an odd-man rush that was awfully close to being offside.
Odd-man rushes were the theme of the night for the Wild defense, handing them out left and right to any Golden Knight player who wanted one. It plagued them all night, leading to two goals and at least half a dozen more chances.
The good news is that it’s not what led to the Mark Stone goal; instead, it was Jared Spurgeon handing the puck over to Chandler Stephenson on a silver platter.
The Captain quickly made up for his mistake on the powerplay. He may not have scored the goal, but getting the puck on net so that it can deflect off of Nick Bonino counts for something!
Remember the plague of odd-man rushes? They kept coming in the second period, allowing the Knights to pull ahead with a 5-3 lead.
The decision to play only inter-division games, largely in baseball-style series’, was likely made to cut down on travel for this season. An unintended, albeit welcome, consequence of this format may be the resurrection of team rivalries that are akin to those seen in the late-90’s. Take two teams, make them play each other seven or more times in three months, and you get some top-tier level hatred.
Down 5-3 heading into the third period, if the Wild were to have any hope in the game, they would have to tighten up defensively. They did, limiting the Golden Knights transition offense, ultimately not letting another goal in past the 40-minute mark.
With under ten minutes to go, Kevin Fiala’s torrid streak continued with his sixth point in three games, and the Wild comeback was officially on.
With Talbot on the bench and the extra skater on the ice, the Wild had only a couple of minutes to tie the game. After a few stalled zone entries, a familiar face showed itself.
Kirill Kaprizov is the physical embodiment of this Minnesota Wild hockey team. We’ve never seen a player engrain themselves into the DNA makeup of an organization this quickly. Where he goes, the team goes. Shockingly, he’s only been wearing a Wild jersey for 50 games.
The team wasn’t done there either.
In about 1:30, the Wild went from being down to a team that is largely considered one of the best in the league to five points back of the division lead.
We aren’t going to mention the reffing performance, including the boos that they received from the fans in attendance because Kirill & Company provided us with a happy moment, and a poor showing from the refs won’t sour it for us.
Do the Wild really want Vegas as their first-round playoff opponent?
They may not be the obvious choice, but with a 5-2 record — including five straight wins — it’d tough to find a more preferable matchup. It’s hard to pin down what it is stylistically that makes the Wild so successful against one of the better teams in the league on paper, but the Wild make it work. If you also consider that the Wild were still working out their roster issues in the early goings, it may give you plenty of hope for a potential playoff matchup.
The Wild held the edge tonight in shot quality with a 57 xGF%, and tonight’s game did have a playoff atmosphere to it (probably aided by the refs abandoning their duties). There are still some kinks on the lower end of the lineup that need to be worked out, as the fourth line of Parise/Sturm/Bjugstad were a putrid 34 xGF%, but everything else seemed to click.
If this is the first-round playoff opponent, at the very least, it’s going to be a very, very very entertaining one.
It may also shave years off our collective lives.
How should the Wild match Vegas’s top lines at home?
As we predicted, the Greenway/Eriksson Ek/Foligno line saw the Golden Knights’ top unit of Mark Stone/Chandler Stephenson/Mattias Janmark (subbing in for an injured Max Pacioretty). They did what they always do, which is control the play, get the bulk of the scoring opportunities and generally cause havoc. After all, they have been one of the best lines in the league for most of the year.
Zach Parise/Nick Bonino/Nico Sturm drew the Alex Tuch/Keegan Kolesar/William Carrier line and got their heads kicked in. That 34 xGF% is shocking. Even more so when you realize they only had ~8 minutes of ice time. I’m not sold that will be the fourth line heading into the post-season, but if it is being used when last change is an option, they may need to be sheltered a bit.
Did St. Louis wake up the Wild?
I can’t say it did when their defensive play was as sloppy as it was tonight. They were definitely in it the entire night, but the two-goal swing that was provided by the unsuccessful coach’s challenge in the first presented itself as an issue.
The team went toe to toe with a powerful divisional opponent, which may be their first-round playoff draw. They came out on top, but they had to make it difficult on themselves. If they were truly “woken” up by the game against the St. Louis Blues, it would have been monumental to see them come out and dominate the Golden Knights.
Instead, we’ll have to settle for another thrilling win.