Saturday night’s contest between the Minnesota Wild and Philadelphia Flyers wasn’t an ordinary hockey game.
About 27 hours before puck drop, the Flyers announced that forward Oskar Lindblom, who leads the team with 11 goals on the season, has been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. While the Wild were just hoping to earn a pair of points to remain in the playoff race, the Flyers were playing for much more.
And it showed early on.
Just 1:34 into the game, James van Riemsdyk beat Alex Stalock on a 2-on-1 rush to open the scoring. But it didn’t take too long for the Wild to get a goal of their own. After what initially looked like a Kevin Fiala wraparound score, it was actually Zach Parise (shocker) providing Minnesota’s first goal of the game. Parise was stationed down low and redirected Fiala’s initial shot past Flyers goalie Carter Hart to tie the game up. Credit to Ryan Donato for forcing a Philippe Myers takeaway to get the play started.
Not even two minutes after Parise’s tally, forward Eric Staal netted his second goal in as many games to give Minnesota the 2-1 lead. Jonas Brodin got the primary assist on the goal, and it was a beauty. Skating down the left wing, Brodin intentionally fired a wrister to Staal, who was left unguarded on the doorstep. With Carter Hart down and out, Staal picked up the loose puck that redirected off his skate and slid it past the goal line for his 10th goal of the season.
After a solid first period, the Wild continued to pressure the Flyers in the middle stanza. Minnesota allowed just three shots on goal in the second period and extended the lead to 3-1, thanks once again to Eric Staal.
Matt Dumba backhanded a puck toward Hart that redirected to Jason Zucker. Zucker fired a shot of his own on net, but Hart came up with the big stop. The puck then pinballed back out directly to Staal, whose shot trickled past the goal line to double the Wild lead.
With that goal, Staal is now just one point shy of hitting the 1,000-point mark.
While the Wild were shutting down basically every high-danger chance Philadelphia generated, the Flyers faced an even bigger problem in the third period — lack of bodies. Not only did they enter the contest without several key contributors (Travis Konecny, Michael Raffl and, of course, Lindblom), but they also lost forwards Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton in the middle period, leaving them with just 10 healthy forwards for the remainder of the contest.
The Wild were well aware of Philadelphia’s short bench and took full advantage. Once again, they outshot the Flyers in the period (13-10 in the final third) and limited their chances to low-danger bids from the point. And when Philadelphia attempted to get the puck into the high-danger areas, the Wild typically did a good job of shutting down their efforts.
While on a late power play and with Hart pulled for the extra attacker, Wild defenseman Carson Soucy, who continues to impress in a top-four role, buried the end-to-end empty-netter to extend Minnesota’s lead to 4-1, virtually ending the game.
Big, big win against an ailing Flyers team to end the homestand. The Wild will be right back at it Sunday on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Will the Carson Soucy show continue?
Yes! With Soucy’s empty-netter, the 25-year-old now has six points (three goals, three assists) in as many games. He was also plus-2 on the night and even manufactured a couple nice rushes, including this one:
Soucy is no mirage, folks. It’s been a lot of fun watching him blossom into a key member of Minnesota’s blue line.
2. Will the balanced offensive attack continue?
Not quite, but the Wild didn’t exactly need a whole lot of secondary scoring with how well the team was playing. Eric Staal stepped up in a big way after the Wild gave up the early goal in the first period, and the line of Zach Parise, Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala also put together some good numbers (57.89 5-on-5 CF%, seven HDCF and a goal). While the Wild still need more out of their bottom-six forwards, it’s hard to complain much with the performance against Philly.
3. Paging the Wild power play...
Yeah. About that. The power play still stinks.
The Wild went 0-for-5 on the man advantage against the Flyers and looked largely disjointed while up a skater. Granted, Philadelphia’s PK is one of the best in hockey, but that still doesn’t excuse how ineffective Minnesota’s power play looked throughout the contest. The Wild have now failed to score on the man advantage in 18 straight attempts, and that’s an issue that must be addressed if they want any chance making a run at a playoff spot.
Joel Eriksson Ek did not play in the third period after taking a hit from Flyers forward Sean Couturier. It’s unclear if Eriksson Ek will play against the Blackhawks, but with that game being the second half of a back-to-back, it wouldn’t be completely shocking if he isn’t in the lineup.
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