They did it, Wild fans. Your Minnesota Wild finally, 13 days into the regular season, have a crooked number in the win column in the standings. It took a furious rally in the third period as Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon led the Wild to victory. Alex Stalock got his first win of the season in his 2nd start of his 2017-18 campaign by stopping 35 of 37 shots to single-handedly give his team a chance to win.
Stalock was the story early, middle, and late. However, the first period, as the Wild gave up 18 shots on goal, took 3 penalties, and have a myriad of issues exiting their own zone, Stalock, flopped, dived, and threw anything, and everything but the kitchen sink in front of the puck to help the Wild weather the storm. The Flames attempted to jump the Wild, who were coming in on tired legs from losing to the Jets the night before. Minnesota held on and settled down after being just a brutal mess in their own end. It wasn’t a pretty period of hockey for the Wild.
Luke Kunin had maybe the most glorious chance for the Wild to score. Flames goaltender Mike Smith fanned on a clearing attempt and Kunin was there to gather the puck. Unfortunately, he missed the open net. It would have been the perfect rope-a-dope move had that happened.
The second period was better. While still dealing with issues exiting the zone, and making a complete passing play, Minnesota did have things happen for them in the offensive zone. Jason Zucker took a wrist shot from the left offensive circle that hit Smith in the mask and knocked it clean off. Chris Stewart did put the puck in the net, but the whistle was blown to stop play immediately with the goalie mask coming off.
It would have been Stewart’s 6th goal in 6 games, however that was not meant to be. Stewart would score his 6th of the season in a much different fashion. On a Wild power play, Stewart would gather the puck in near the left half-wall, walk in and fire a shot from the lower rim of the left circle. Smith would make the original save, but the Sewart wouldn’t let the puck touch the ice before he bat it out of mid-air over Smith’s right shoulder.
The Wild were less than a minute from finishing out one of their better periods of the season, but Sean Monahan had other ideas. Troy Brouwer took advantage of a puck that hopped over Suter’s stick near the left defensive corner, skate around him, and dish to Monahan for the tying goal. Head coach Bruce Boudreau challenged the play for offside, but on replay, and he knew it too after a second look on the bench, that it was not offside, nor even close. Wild and Flames ended the period in a 1-1 tie and short handed.
Ryan Suter started the period by breaking Johnny Gaudreau’s stick with a slash, putting Minnesota on a 5-on-3 disadvantage. Kris Versteeg would walk out from the left offensive circle and score nearly untouched as he skated into the blue paint. With Calgary ahead 2-1, the Wild’s future in the game looked bleak, at best. Ryan Suter would tie the game after Luke Kunin made a nice play to Eric Staal in the neutral zone. Staal then entered the zone, dropped it to Suter and continued to the net, providing a screen. Suter then ripped a wrist shot over the glove of Smith for the game-tying goal. It would be Kunin’s first NHL point of his career.
A little more than a minute and a half later, Koivu would break into the Flames zone. He’d get shoved off the puck, but with Suter trailing, Suter would send the puck to his right for Jared Spurgeon. Spurgeon would wind up and take slapper from the right offensive circle and found daylight over the left should of Smith for the lead. The Wild had successfully stormed back and had a lead in the third period, something they’ve had trouble keeping in the previous four games. Kyle Quincey took a late slashing penalty and gave the Flames a chance to tie. The Wild had the league’s top power play coming into the game, but also one of the very worst penalty kills. The PK held strong and included a nice clearing play by Luke Kunin. With an empty net for Calgary, Daniel Winnik would pitchfork a puck from the neutral zone into the gaping net. It was a perfect punch-cut fade-draw into the net. It was also Kunin’s second career assist and point.
Stalock was exactly what this team needed and he certainly deserved the win. Not enough can be said of his superb performance in between the pipes. Jason Zucker continues to be a player ready for prime-time. As inconsistent and, at times, bad play the forwards for this team can have, Zucker has played well and looks like he gives a damn. After a brutal night for Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba in Winnipeg, Boudreau had split that pair up and placed Brodin with Gustav Olofsson, and Dumba with Quincey. It wasn’t great, but it was mildly better.
For now, it’s great to be back in the win column.
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