It’s been four months and 27 days since either the Minnesota Wild or Vancouver Canucks played meaningful hockey. But after Game 1, you wouldn’t know the Wild had any layoff at all, scoring early and holding on late to defeat Vancouver 3-0 in Game 1 of their play-in series.
For anyone who thought teams would take a while to get back into the swing of things, it took only one minute and 19 seconds for the blood to boil, as Marcus Foligno and Micheal Ferland threw hands off an early faceoff.
Once the dust settled, it was hard to believe that Minnesota had been off for 147 days, as they brought all of the intensity and skated rings around the Canucks. Under three minutes in, Ryan Donato had a terrific chance and was tripped, leading to the game’s first power play. Kevin Fiala took absolutely no time making the Canucks pay, taking a Jared Spurgeon pass and firing a slapshot that found its way through Jacob Markstrom’s glove just three seconds into the man advantage.
Minnesota continued to dominate early, with Markstrom having to sprawl in order to deny an Eric Staal goal near the post. Then Zach Parise had a tip attempt and rebound denied, but drew an immediate cross-checking call against Tyler Myers for the Wild’s second power play. Even though the Wild didn’t convert, they had some great chances with the extra skater and maintained tenacious pressure in the Canucks’ defensive zone.
Defensively, Vancouver got very little going as the Wild’s fourth line of Mikko Koivu along with the Ryan Hartman and Donato successfully shut down the Canucks’ elite line of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli. When Vancouver did start to get quality chances midway through the first, Alex Stalock was up to the task, strong on his angles and limiting rebounds.
With Vancouver finding their stride and evening up the shot totals as the first period wound down, the Wild dodged a huge bullet, as a delayed penalty to Parise for holding was negated during the same sequence by a too many men bench minor on the Canucks, resulting in a 4-on-4 instead of Vancouver’s first power play. Vancouver got a couple more chances in the waning moments, but Stalock held strong, and the Wild took their 1-0 lead into their Rogers Place locker room after the first period.
The unblocked shot chart tells the story of the first period. Despite Vancouver owning the end of period shot lead 14-12, the Wild defense was able to keep most of their chances on the perimeter, making it easy for Stalock to see and react to the puck. On the other end, despite giving up the early power-play marker, Markstrom was an absolute brick wall against a ferocious Wild attack, shutting down most of the high-danger chances he faced.
In the second period, the Canucks were the ones that came out flying. The Pettersson line was especially dangerous with a couple of strong shifts, and was a diving play by Jared Spurgeon away from Toffoli potentially tying up the game.
Moments later, Stalock made a windmill glove save to keep Vancouver scoreless on a brilliant opportunity by Quinn Hughes.
As much jump as Minnesota had through about 15 minutes of the first period, the Wild looked like they had concrete in their skates to start the second, getting almost zero sustained offensive pressure and spending long stretches in the defensive zone. Minnesota finally put a couple strong shifts together, with Alex Galchenyuk’s line throwing the body around and getting some offensive chances. Carson Soucy capped off the strong shift by drawing a tripping penalty, and once again the Wild took full advantage. Just 17 seconds into the power play, Staal found Spurgeon wide open in the slot, and the star defenseman extended the Wild lead with an off-speed slider that would make the Minnesota Twins’ pitching staff jealous, beating Markstrom through the five-hole.
The Wild were able to escape the second holding onto their two-goal lead, but before they did, Ryan Hartman laid a hit on Chris Tanev that, well, just take a look...
Just seconds into the third, Vancouver gifted the Wild with their fourth power play when Tanner Pearson hacked the leg of Stalock. Stalock got up slow but stayed in the game. Minnesota nearly extended their lead on a chance by Luke Kunin, but Markstrom was up to the task and the Wild failed to convert.
Markstom continued his brilliance at 5-on-5, stopping everything the Wild had to offer. The Wild had their best chance to finally get an even-strength goal when Fiala sprung Staal on a breakaway, but the puck rolled on the centerman as he made his move, and the puck was easily legged away by Markstrom.
Things got chippy near the midway point of the third period, as Ferland retaliated for having his stick held by Luke Kunin on the Wild bench by spearing Ryan Hartman in the stomach. Hartman served a holding penalty while Ferland got off light with a slashing call, though it’s possible the NHL takes a closer look at his infraction.
A Koivu interference call gave Vancouver a chance to get back in the game, but Stalock and the Wild stopped the Canucks from getting any quality chances. Vancouver would get some momentum going with Markstrom pulled, but Jared Spurgeon’s rink-long Hail Mary into the empty net sealed the 3-0 victory, giving the Wild the early 1-0 series lead.
After such a long pause from meaningful hockey, seeing Minnesota strike fast and convert on special teams while shutting down the high-flying first line of Vancouver has got to give players and fans alike some confidence that they’ll be able to keep the momentum going into Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Can the Wild shut down the Canucks top six?
Oh yeah. The Koivu-Hartman-Donato line in particular was critical in preventing the Pettersson-Miller-Toffoli line from getting much on Stalock, but when they did, Stalock was up to the task. In fact, the entire defensive corps for the Wild did a great job keeping the Vancouver attack to the perimeter.
Shutting down players like Pettersson, Miller and Brock Boeser will be key as the series continues, but for Game 1, they did exactly what they set out to do — prevent the Canucks’ top two lines from building any momentum.
2. Will Kevin Fiala pick up where he left off?
Four months in between games that count? Fiala made it look like it had been only four days.
Fiala got the Wild’s first goal on the power play right off the faceoff and owned the ice during the first period. But Fiala shined all over the ice throughout the game, showing his skill and speed and generating plenty of opportunities for himself and his teammates.
3. Will the Wild score first?
Yup. Fiala from Spurgeon on the power play. And when Markstrom looked so strong at five-on-five in game one, getting that first power-play marker to trickle through the Canucks’ netminder was huge. Speaking of Spurgeon, he was an absolute star on the ice, shutting down Vancouver’s top line while also adding two goals (including a long-distance empty-netter). But it was his beauty of a pass to set up Fiala’s one-timer that got the Wild a lead that would make the difference in getting Minnesota the series lead.
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