As the Minnesota Wild came into Sunday night’s game against a Washington Capitals team that had lost five out of their previous seven, there was a huge chance for them to get back into the playoff race. The standings spoke for themselves, as Minnesota was only one point out of the final wild card position coming into the contest. But taking on a top tier team like Washington is a battle in itself, and the home team had to prove it on the ice.
They opened up with that mindset. Just under three minutes in, Ryan Donato received a stretch pass from Ryan Suter for a breakaway. Braden Holtby made the stop, but Donato remained persistent on the play as he corralled the puck behind the net and fired a shot from an almost impossible angle which deflected off the Washington netminder and into the back of the net to put the home team up 1-0.
Minnesota would then face adversity just before the midway point of the opening frame, as Alex Stalock and Greg Pateryn were both called for separate penalties, further giving the Caps the two-man advantage. Before long, Alex Ovechkin found the back of the net on a ripper from his office, which deflected off the glove of Stalock and found its way home.
Washington would then score two goals within 41 seconds of each other, capitalizing off Minnesota mistakes in the neutral zone. First it was Richard Panik finding the back of the net and, of course, Ovechkin followed up for his second of the night, which stretched out the lead to 3-1.
Minnesota did not go down quietly, though. The Wild capitalized on a power play opportunity only two minutes later. The goal came after some terrific puck movement from Brad Hunt and Jared Spurgeon, who eventually found Kevin Fiala. Fiala sent a laser beam by Hotlby to narrow the deficit to only a singular goal at 3-2.
The winger had 10 goals in February alone, and he’s off to another great start in March.
The physicality of the first period was surely evident, and it eventually boiled over as Ryan Hartman and Brenden Dillon dropped the gloves for a spirited tilt. Not a bad showing by Hartman, who gave up a fair amount of size and strength to Dillon.
And, folks, that was only the first period! A five-goal slugfest in just 20 minutes of regulation time.
The second period opened with Stalock making save after save, including taking a firmly struck slap shot from Ovechkin straight to the chest and then getting steamrolled by Kovalchuk soon thereafter.
The flurry of goals may have slowed down in the second, but that didn’t mean the physicality had to follow the same trend. Both sides were engaged in scrums and exchanging words throughout the middle stanza.
Minnesota outshot the Capitals 23-20 through two periods, but just couldn’t crack the code of Holtby.
But Washington would finally crack Stalock once again only a minute into the third period. The Wild couldn’t execute a clearance out of their defensive end and the puck eventually found its way to Ovechkin, who then fired a pass to Tom Wilson to give Washington the 4-2 lead.
At the 11:40 mark, Michael Kempny was sent to the box for interference, and the Wild once again re-ignited their offense and capitalized. Kevin Fiala showed off some nifty moves and found Zach Parise on down low, who drove right onto Holtby’s doorstep and broke down the door to bring the Wild within a goal.
However, that wound up being Minnesota’s final goal of the night. The Capitals clamped down for the remaining seven minutes and finished the hard-fought game with a 4-3 victory. It was an inspired performance, and one the Wild will need to replicate from an effort standpoint if they want to finally get over the hump and back into the playoff race.
Maybe the most important game of the season, to this point, comes on Tuesday night as the Nashville Predators come to town. A victory against Nashville is an absolute must.
Answers to our Burning Questions
Can the offense keep scoring?
Yes. The Wild scored only three goals, but generated plenty of scoring chances. The Wild scored on two of their four power play opportunities, which is also not too shabby. However, when you sacrifice four goals, it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.
How do the Wild look against an improved opponent?
It is never a healthy thing to take moral victories, but Minnesota put a highly respectable performance out on the ice tonight. Washington threw haymakers, literally and figuratively, and held two-goal leads on multiple occasions, but the Wild fought back each time and made the game interesting down the stretch. With 17 games to go in the regular season, the Wild must continue to play with this urgency for a chance at the postseason.
Can the Wild quiet Ovechkin?
Ovechkin had two huge goals for the Capitals — both of which came in the opening frame. It could have gotten ugly, but from a scoreboard perspective, the Wild held Ovechkin in check for the remainder of the game, so that’s kind of a positive spin on it?