The Minnesota Wild came into Friday night’s matchup against the Edmonton Oilers five points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, and with the trade deadline just about two days away, it’s safe to say that each game is practically a “must-win” for Minnesota — not only to keep pace in the playoff race, but also to try and convince GM Bill Guerin to not start making significant changes to the team.
Things didn’t start out too well for Minnesota early on against Edmonton. It took less than a minute for the Oilers to get on the board as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins caught a pass at the hashmarks and beat Alex Stalock on the blocker side to give Edmonton the 1-0 lead.
The Oilers came close a couple times to doubling the lead, but with just over 11 minutes to play, Kevin Fiala gathered the puck in the offensive zone and made a slick move to his backhand through the slot and tied the game at one goal apiece.
Unfortunately, it did not take very long for the Oilers to respond, as Kailer Yamamoto made a nice pass to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the slot, who fired a quick wrist shot past Stalock, restoring Edmonton’s lead.
Although Ryan Hartman came very close to scoring on a couple of great chances, the period ended with Minnesota trailing the Oilers 2-1.
The Wild got off to a much better start in the second period, and it didn’t take very long for them to be rewarded as Carson Soucy sniped a shot over the glove of Mikko Koskinen to tie the game up at 2-2.
Just like the previous goals, it didn’t take long for the Oilers to respond when a Leon Draisaitl pass deflected off the skate of Jordan Greenway and fluttered passed a scrambling Stalock and into the net, giving the Oilers their third one-goal lead of the night.
Minnesota didn’t seem to be too discouraged by the weird goal, however. Around the game’s midway point, Alex Galchenyuk fed Jared Spurgeon a pass towards the top of the circle, who then fired a slap shot off the post and in to once again tie the game up.
The Wild got one last great scoring chance in the second period as Jordan Greenway made a great pass to send Parise in on a breakaway, but he was stopped by Koskinen and the game went into the third period tied at 3-3.
The first half of the third period was pretty back and forth, with each goaltender making a few nice saves to keep the game tied, and Minnesota even had a power play in which they moved the puck very well and nearly took the lead multiple times.
Then, just past the halfway point of the third period, Jared Spurgeon threw a puck on goal from the corner, which deflected off of Adam Larsson’s stick and into the net, giving Minnesota their first lead of the game at 4-3.
With the clock starting to run down, the Oilers would get a power play with just under four minutes remaining, but the Wild did a great job on the kill. And just after the penalty expired, Spurgeon charged out of the box and got a pass from Eric Staal to send him in alone on the empty net to wrap up the first hat trick of his career — in his hometown of Edmonton, no less.
The Wild took home a huge 5-3 win to pull within three points of a playoff spot. Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Blues at home just became even more important.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Will Eric Staal continue to produce against Edmonton?
While his only point in the game was the assist on Spurgeon’s empty-net goal, Staal looked better than he has in recent games and had a few good scoring chances throughout. Again, while Staal hasn’t been at his best, he is still a highly skilled player. Hopefully he can build off of this game.
2. Will Alex Galchenyuk carry momentum from Wednesday?
After what was by far his best performance in a Wild sweater in Vancouver on Wednesday, Galchenyuk was even better tonight as he was awarded with a couple of assists and several good scoring chances throughout the game. While his future in Minnesota is still uncertain, it’s encouraging to seem him playing well, considering how this season has gone for him.
3. Can Wild goaltending continue to improve?
Everyone knows that goaltending has probably been Minnesota’s biggest weakness this year, and while Stalock wasn’t perfect against Edmonton, he did come up with a couple of big saves throughout the game and ultimately got the win, which is really all that matters in the end.
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