Minnesota Wild fans weren’t too happy to find out that their beloved team was set to have yet another 9:45 start. Friday night’s contest didn’t officially start until a little after 10 p.m. CT. But hey, at least the team could maybe push the series to a Game 5 and get an earlier game on Sunday, perhaps even primetime?
Nope, the Ryan Suter-less Wild squandered three separate leads at the hands of Quinn Hughes and company and eventually lost in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks, ending their postseason in just four games played in the Edmonton bubble.
Friday night’s game was fast and fun to watch from a fan’s perspective. The high intensity and spirit of Friday night’s contest started early as Wild forward Ryan Hartman fought Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen on their first shift to start the hockey game in an effort to get each team’s benches going.
Minnesota broke the scoresheet first after Tyler Myers (shocker, am I right?) took a roughing penalty, which resulted in his series-leading eighth minor penalty. On the ensuing power play, Wild forward Luke Kunin squeezed home a Zach Parise-like goal after receiving a pass down low and quickly wrapping and jamming the puck into the net. The jam was successful and Kunin scored his second goal of the series. The assists came from Mats Zuccarello and Jonas Brodin. It is worth mentioning that Zuccarello was positioned on the opposite wing per usual on the team’s second unit as he contributed his first point in the series.
Another point worth noting is that in each of the first three games between Vancouver and Minnesota, the team that scored first won each game.
The lead for Minnesota lasted 10 minutes. After receiving a brilliant stretch pass from Vancouver defenseman Chis Tanev, winger Tanner Pearson took a couple of strides and released a wrist shot from the faceoff dot that found its way past Alex Stalock over his glove.
As momentum seemed to shift with a tied game, the Wild responded to the challenge quickly. One of the veterans on the team stepped up with a statement goal. Eric Staal scored a short side goal, making it the first 5-on-5 goal for Minnesota in the series. Staal scored his 22nd career playoff goal after Kevin Fiala cycled the puck down the boards for a quick bump from Marcus Foligno to the Wild veteran, whom picked his spot and was able to sneak one over the shoulder of Vancouver netminder Jacob Markstrom.
To remain at 2-1, Stalock stood his ground and made a couple of key saves that allowed the Wild to play with a one-goal lead. The dubbed No. 1 goaltender stoned Canucks captain Bo Horvat at the end of the first period. To start the second period, Stalock thwarted a Loui Eriksson breakaway. He provided a boost to the Wild lineup and stopped a possible momentum swing in Vancouver’s favor.
The solid work and saves by Stalock allowed enough time for Minnesota to capitalize on their next chance. Joel Eriksson Ek finally was able to get the monkey off his back, scoring his first-ever postseason goal. The play started with a Quinn Hughes turnover and a lot of hard work by Zach Parise out front to create the Wild’s third goal of the game. Jonas Brodin fired a puck on net through traffic and Eriksson Ek picked up the rebound and made no mistake in burying it past Markstrom.
Minutes later, Hughes made up for his defensive turnover that lead to a goal and created one himself. After escaping pressure, Hughes threw a puck toward Stalock, which redirected on its way to the net. The puck skyrocketed and the Wild netminder lost track of the it. Vancouver forward Brandon Sutter ended up swatting the puck out of mid-air to score. The whole play was wacky and unfortunate for Minnesota, as Sutter scored his 12th goal in 22 contests against the Wild.
A little bit over a minute later, Quinn Hughes struck again. This time on the power play in classic Quinn Hughes fashion. The Canucks rookie ripped an absolute laser from the point to beat a screened Stalock. With the goal, Hughes recorded his fifth point in just as many periods.
At this point in the game, momentum had swung in favor of the Canucks.
This continued until a weird goal was scored by Wild youngster Nico Sturm. In just his 10th NHL game, the native of Germany beat Markstrom short side, just as Kunin and Staal had earlier in the game. This was Sturm’s first NHL goal (regular season or postseason). Not know as a goal-scorer and more of a playmaker, Sturm scored 12 goals in 55 games while playing in Iowa this season. He replaced Ryan Donato in the lineup and capitalized on his opportunity to give the Wild a 4-3 lead into the third period.
The third period had a lot of back-and-forth play with both teams trading chances — the biggest ones both coming as breakaways that forced penalties. Both Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala and Vancouver’s Brandon Sutter found themselves with fantastic chances alone, yet were pulled down by the opposition, drawing penalties to put their respective clubs on the power play.
With a little less than six minutes left in regulation, Vancouver evened the score. Vancouver got a great shift from the Pearson, Horvat, and Eriksson line, in which they cycled the puck tremendously and set up an open Horvat out front for an easy one-time goal to tie the game up at 4-4. Carson Soucy was caught watching the puck as Pearson slid it past the former UMD Bulldog to an uncovered Horvat. No chance the Canucks captain fails to capitalize on such a golden opportunity.
Three periods wasn’t enough to decide a winner, so this game needed overtime. But not much of it — just 11 seconds, in fact.
In routine-like fashion, Vancouver defenseman Christopher Tanev picked up the puck on his blue line and wristed a shot on net. J.T. Miller was in the high slot screening Stalock, and the puck whizzed by the Wild netminder, sending them back home to Minnesota for the summer.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Can the Wild stay out of the penalty box?
The Wild went to the box on four separate occasions, including a Kevin Fiala tripping penalty that was not entirely warranted. So, all in all the team did a fairly good job of staying out of the box, but Vancouver was able to capitalize on one of their power play’s on the Hughes wrist shot.
2. Can the Wild capitalize on their power plays?
The Wild were able to capitalize on their first power play as Luke Kunin banged home the first goal of the hockey game just three minutes into the contest. Other than that, however, the Wild failed to convert on their next four attempts. If the Wild had scored just one more time with the man advantage, we’d be talking about a Game 5 rather than another series completion on Friday night.
3. Will the Wild keep their season alive and force a do-or-die Game 5?
Sadly, no. The Wild allowed the Canucks to tie the game back up on three occasions on Friday night, and it ended up costing them their season. On the flip side, with the loss, the Wild will now select get either the No. 1 or No. 9 overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Phase 2 of the draft lottery will be on Monday at 5:00 pm CT. It will be televised on NBCSN, as Wild fans will be able to see if their 12.5% chance at scoring top prospect Alexis Lafreniere comes to fruition.
It would be criminal of me to end this recap without mentioning Mikko Koivu. The CapFinn. No. 9. One of the best defensive forwards this league has had over the last 20 years. The one who holds almost every Minnesota Wild franchise record — 1,028 games played, 504 assists, and 709 points all in a Wild uniform. A tip of the cap to the longtime captain of the Minnesota Wild.
We don’t know if this is farewell just yet, but if it is, thank you.
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