Having seen Eric Staal basically carried off the ice after colliding with a linesman against the Anaheim Ducks, you wouldn’t fault fans for thinking the Wild would be without their star centerman for an extended period of time. But Staal is as tough as they come, and considering his history in the league, should have surprised no one by taking the ice to face off against the Edmonton Oilers. As the Athletic’s Michael Russo noted:
To open the first period, if all you saw was the 7-2 lead in shots held by Edmonton after the first 10 minutes, the average Wild fan might think “Uh oh, here we go again.” But unlike the Anaheim game, the Wild controlled the puck well and had a good amount of offensive zone time, but were held to the perimeter or had quality chances blocked or fired wide. Edmonton got the best of the early opportunities, though their first real chance was a beautiful feed from Connor McDavid to Matt Kassian, which Wild netminder Kaapo Kahkonen was able to turn aside with a gorgeous pad save.
Just a few minutes later, a defensive breakdown led to Sam Gagner finding Oscar Klefbom all by himself as he skated up the center of the Wild’s defensive zone, beating Kahkonen with a slick backhander to give the Oilers the early lead.
With 8:25 to play in the first, the Wild got the equalizer on a strong shift by Carson Soucy. The rookie defenseman got a couple good chances, and took a wrister from the point that deflected off the blocker of Oilers goalie Mike Smith, richoched off Jordan Greenway’s back and just past the goal line, tying the game at one apiece. Both Smith and defenseman Darnell Nurse were livid that there was no goaltender interference — Nurse even took a two-hand chop to the legs of Greenway in protest) — but the goal stood.
The Wild dodged a bullet with under four minutes to play when an Adam Larsson chance made it past Kahkonen, but rang the post. Luckily, the Wild got the lucky bounce and the game remained tied.
With both teams prepared to take an even score into the first intermission, Staal found Jason Zucker on a wide-open break, who used a silky deke and backhand to beat Smith, scoring with just 17.5 seconds left in the frame to give the Wild a 2-1 lead going into the intermission.
To open the second period, Klefbom caught Soucy flat-footed, forcing him to hook the forward to prevent a great scoring chance, leading to the first penalty of the game. The top-ranked Edmonton power play didn’t need long to show everyone the strength of their top unit, as Connor McDavid found Leon Draisaitl on a no-look pass, which he snuck under the glove of Kahkonen, tying the game at two.
The Wild were able to answer soon after on a 2-on-1 rush, where Ryan Hartman fed Marcus Foligno, who beat Smith low on the glove side to give the Wild their second lead of the game.
Soucy has been the defensive MVP for the Wild recently, and continued to build his resume of highlights halfway through the second period by diving to break up a 2-on-0 chance for McDavid and Kassian.
The effort helped the Wild gain some momentum, and just moments later Ryan Donato used a Zach Parise decoy on the 2-on-1 rush, shooting to beat Smith on the glove side yet again, extending the Wild lead to two.
The second half of the middle stanza was rough and tumble at times — the best example being a Darnell Nurse’s mid-ice hit on Luke Kunin, which sent him pinwheeling through the air to the ice. Kunin felt Nurse stuck out his leg on the hit, and both players jawed at each other looking like they were going to drop the gloves, but neither obliged. The bad blood boiled over later in the period, and when Nurse and Kunin resumed their shoving match after a whistle, Greenway stepped in to defend his teammate and took on Nurse. Nurse got some big swings in on Greenway to knock him to the ice and end the fight, but it was Greenway who bloodied Nurse with a solid uppercut.
With cooler heads prevailing, the two teams traded chances until the 2:41 mark, where Joel Eriksson Ek hauled down Draisitl, earning the Oilers their second power play of the game. But the opportunity was short-lived as Soucy sprung Hartman on a shorthanded break, causing Klefbom to hook Hartman, nullifying the man advantage. Neither team scored on the four-on-four or the Minnesota’s abbreviated power play, and the 4-2 Wild lead continued into the third.
Carson Soucy continued to impress into the final stanza. Whether it was a defensive breakup to prevent a great Oilers scoring chance or an intercepted pass that lead to an odd-man rush and a brilliant scoring opportunity for Ryan Donato, Soucy showed why he’s so deserving of big minutes at the NHL level.
For as talented as McDavid is (and he showed flashed of his All-Star talent throughout the game), the Wild did an amazing job of neutralizing him and his linemates, constantly breaking up centering passes, disrupting passing lanes and generally keeping the Oilers superstar to the margins of the offensive zones. What shots the Oilers were able to get on net, Kahkonen was able to handle without giving up many dangerous rebounds.
The Wild, for their part, kept up the offensive pressure. Kevin Fiala had a beautiful chance on the rush (fed by a Soucy pass), and while Smith had no idea where the puck was coming from, he managed to keep his body in between the puck and the net, denying the Wild an opportunity to extend the lead.
But all that momentum quickly drained away when Gaetan Haas cut the Wild lead to one with 9:17 left in the third.
Edmonton kept the pressure on, and while Kahkonen stoned James Neal on a breakaway soon after the Oilers goal, the visitors were able to tie things up when Connor McDavid buried his first shot of the game, thanks to a pass from Ethan Bear that gave McDavid plenty of net to shoot at.
The Wild eventually managed to tilt the ice back in their favor, and some extended offensive zone time led to Zucker finding Staal with a nifty backhand pass that the centerman rocketed past Smith on the one-timer, giving the Wild back the lead.
Having seized back momentum, Minnesota continued to control the play. A strong forecheck by Joel Eriksson Ek freed the puck for Jordan Greenway, who found Luke Kunin at the top of the slot where he fired a no-doubt wrister past Smith faster than he could blink.
With Smith leaving the ice for the extra attacker, Kahkonen had a great chance to fire a puck up the ice for a goalie goal, but the Oilers defense was up to the task, knocking the puck out of the air and maintaining the zone. A long-distance attempt led to an icing and a faceoff in the Wild zone with under a minute to go, and after an Oilers timeout, Kassian found Neal with a no-look pass from behind the net, who went top-shelf on Kahkonen to cut the lead to one.
The Oilers couldn’t complete the comeback, though, and despite a couple opportunities in the closing seconds, the Wild held on to pick up the 6-5 victory. Staal, Greenway and Soucy shined in a surprisingly high-scoring affair, giving the Wild their 22nd point in 14 games.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Will Wild Twitter have reason to bring back their favorite hashtag?
Surprising everyone and no one at the same time, Eric Staal made Gerald #GerryTime Mayhew’s call-up a moot point by shaking off his injury to take his normal spot in the Wild lineup. Staal wound up having a very strong game with two points, including what was nearly the game-winning goal before James Neal scored in the waning seconds of the game.
2. Can the Wild shut down the Oilers top-ranked power play?
No, as Edmonton took full advantage of one of their two full power plays to tie the game at two in the early part of the second period. They did have a third look at the man advantage, but it was nullified when Hartman drew a slashing call on Klefbom. Luckily, while Edmonton did find success at 5-on-4, the Wild’s disciplined play didn’t give the Oilers many opportunities.
3. How will the Wild D do against McDavid and company?
Well, considering the Wild gave up five against the high-flying Oilers, most of the defensive corps will likely not want to keep the game tape of this one. That doesn’t go for Carson Soucy, however, who was flying all over both ends of the ice, preventing chances, blocking shots, setting up odd-man rushes and taking the shot that found its way into the net off of Greenway to get the Wild on the board. He was utterly fantastic.