Experience paid off early for the Minnesota Wild. Whatever momentum they carried into game 2 of the NHL qualifying round against the Vancouver Canucks could have been compromised moments after puck drop. Tanner Pearson scored 24 seconds into the game on the first shot of the night, making it 1-0 for Vancouver. Alex Stalock was beat top corner off of a beautiful laser.
The Wild remained unsettled and responded well on all the goals against tonight . A product of experience up and down the lineup.
Brock Boeser hooked Jonas Brodin 11 seconds later, and the special teams floodgates opened. The Minnesota Wild were unable to generate any legitimate chances.
Throughout both games, Joel Eriksson Ek continues to shine. His notorious reputation does is still apparent as well. In Game 1, Eriksson Ek antagonized Tyler Myers and Christopher Tanev. In Game 2 he focused most on Troy Stecher. Eriksson Ek even drew an interference call on Stecher four minutes before the Boeser call.
Ryan Suter and Kevin Fiala were noted playing on the back end of the power play, and with Fiala’s incredible release, it’s not surprising. Usually that is Jared Spurgeon’s spot. Without early power play success, Minnesota head coach Dean Evason did go back to his top pair later on.
Special teams dominated the game and became the main storyline after the final horn sounded. Next was a roughing call on Jordan Greenway towards Elias Pettersson. The young Swede was completely shut down in Game 1, but was physical tonight and drew several penalties for the Canucks.
The penalty kill for both the Wild and Canucks were outstanding, and is the only good to note on an otherwise forgettable night for special teams. Right after Greenway’s roughing penalty, the Wild went down a man once more. Mikko Koivu was called for delay of game off the face-off by apparently kicking the puck back to his teammates — though it looked like a hand pass.
Greenway was back in the box soon after. However, with the Wild’s penalty kill already warmed up, they kept the Canucks to the neutral zone and barley gave up the blue line. Overall, the Wild’s penalty kill played well against the Canucks — who are second to the Edmonton Oilers in goals scored on the power play this season.
With the Wild killing penalties, and Stalock playing fine — apart from the early goal which now has the distinction of being the earliest goal scored against the Wild in postseason history — momentum was still up for grabs. The shorthanded goal by Luke Kunin was huge.
Throughout the first period, the Canucks’ efforts to forecheck were repeatedly shut down. Bo Horvat nor Brock Boeser could work in deep. The Wild’s defense looked composed and positionally sound. Carson Soucy in particular kept his cool and was blocking shots and leading breakouts.
Just 45 seconds into the second period, Troy Stecher tripped Zach Parise. On this power play more than the rest, the Wild were able to pass exceptionally well and control possession.
In Game 1, Canucks forward J.T. Miller was a non-factor and looked overwhelmed. He was outstanding in Game 2. Miller created space for Pettersson and also added a bar-down beautiful goal stolen from a giveaway by Alex Galchenyuk.
The Wild veterans continued to bounced back in the face of adversity. Most notable was Eric Staal, who scored two points in his 60th playoff appearance. Despite his hard work, Jacob Markstrom denied him on several scoring chances.
Markstrom played excellent in Game 1 and 2 — his first NHL postseason win — and it should be noted that Alex Stalock has not played poorly. Other than the early goal against and Matt Dumba saving the puck tonight, Markstrom was simply on another level, much like Elias Pettersson. For Boeser’s first goal of the postseason, Pettersson redirected a shot right to Boeser’s tape. From there, Boeser, open on the far side of the net, gave Vancouver their third goal of the night.
Both teams traded another penalty each, and the Wild’s shots were mostly blocked by the Canucks. While shorthanded, Eriksson Ek demonstrated his defensive game by stealing the puck in the neutral zone and proceeding on the breakaway, only to be stopped by Jake Virtanen and his impressive speed.
At the end of the second period, before both teams were assessed offsetting minors at the whistle, Luke Kunin showed he could do more than solely score on the big stage by flattening Alex Edler.
Three minutes into the final period, Alex Galchenyuk — who stood out for the wrong reasons all night — was penalized for tripping Pettersson. Lucky for him, Stalock had his best showing yet on the penalty kill as he stopped two prime one-timers. Unfortunately, with two seconds left on the kill, Brad Hunt hacked at Pettersson. This kill did not go as well, with defensive sensation Quinn Hughes registering his first assist on a one-time of his tipped by Horvat. Just three minutes into the final frame, the Canucks were leading 4-1.
The Wild had two consecutive chances on the power play to get back into the game halfway through the third when Myers took back-to-back crosscheck penalties. Unlike the first and second period, the Wild failed to get anything going on the man-advantage as the. Canucks repeatedly took possession and dumped it.
The 15th penalty of the night looked to be the final blow for the Wild. Fiala, who looked to trip Stecher, but was called for high-sticking instead. But upon killing the penalty, Evason pulled Stalock with over two minutes left. With extra time and a little space, Fiala scored glove-side off the iron.
Fiala further closed the scoring gap in Game 2 by redirecting a one-timer from Matt Dumba off the face-off. Ironic, since the Minnesota Wild’s face-off numbers were horrible all night, holding steady at 37%. This should come as no surprise because the Wild were 27th in face-off percentage in the 2019-20 regular season. The final score from Game 2 was 4-3 in favor of the Canucks.
1. Can Stalock keep up the stellar play?
Jessi Pierce tweeted that she didn’t “in the least think Stalock was the problem tonight but makes me wonder if we see 40 [Devan Dubnyk] in net Thursday. It’s not a must-win and you could throw [Vancouver] offensive threat off a bit with a new tendy.” I agree. Stalock no doubt played outstanding on Sunday in the first game of the series. But the Wild made that easier for him with their stellar defensive play which held the Canucks to little to no prime scoring chances. Fans have not yet seen the best nor worst of Stalock.
2. Will the Wild continue to minimize quality scoring chances?
The Wild must continue to suppress scoring chances and zone entries. Otherwise the likes of Pettersson will take advantage of the time and space. All one has to do is look at his performance from Game 2. Pettersson is no weak player and that showed in tonight’s matchup; he showed up for playoff hockey. He exchanged hits with Ryan Suter, drew penalties, and ended Hartman’s night in Game 2. Pettersson has already adapted to a more physical style after just one playoff loss.
3. Will the Wild stay out of the box again?
The Wild have to stay out of the box for Game 3. Sure, they went 1-for-7 on the penalty kill, but they cannot give power play chances to the talented Canucks, and more importantly, they need to play even-strength to shut down the Canucks and score themselves. Wes Walz said that a reason for most of the penalties tonight (though some undisciplined) was a product of “fighting to get inside” the prime scoring chances. The Wild need to stick to where they thrive, and they can only ensure that by staying out the penalty box.
The amount of penalties delivered tournament-wide thus far could be league-mandated to generate offense post-COVID-19 pause. Unfortunately for the NHL, the Wild and Canucks can’t generate power play goals to save their lives.
Game 3 begins at 3:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, August 6. The series is now tied 1-1.