Minnesota Wild fans know that if this franchise can do anything, it is play down to worse teams. Commenters dubbed this game a trap game from the beginning, with the Wild due to face the Vegas Golden Knights in less than 24 hours. However, Dean Evason and his staff have emphasized taking it shift by shift. Tonight, their present mentality was on display.
The Wild’s first game on TNT got off to an explosive start. On the third shift of the game, Nico Sturm found himself stumbling into Shayne Gostisbehere’s stick and drawing a tripping minor. After a beautiful play by Jared Spurgeon, Joel Eriksson Ek put a beautiful shot in the back of the net to give the Wild an early lead.
The goal clearly gave the Wild some early confidence. The next several minutes saw them capitalize on an abundance of room in Arizona’s visibly weak defensive zone. Finally, Arizona took a penalty. Before the whistle could blow, Marcus Foligno beat a stick-less Vejmelka with a well placed shot from Jon Merrill.
Minutes later, the relatively perfect game so far was broken. Matt Dumba jumped up in the play and forced a pass that turned into a turnover when Jordan Greenway hesitated on filling a lane. Simultaneously, Andrew Ladd found himself catching the puck behind Jonas Brodin. Brodin, uncharacteristically, stumbled and gave Ladd the time he needed to streak in and beat Kahkonen under the glove.
The remainder of the period saw the momentum return to the Wild’s corner with several dominant shift, with the most memorable coming from the top line in the last minute of the period. It seemed almost certain that a goal was coming, with Kaprizov and Zuccarello playing keep away until Merrill lost the puck at the point, spoiling any chance of a goal.
Kevin Fiala came out for the second period looking to make up for a few missed chances in the first. With a puck in the air, Fiala channeled his inner designated hitter to slap the puck right under the bar to give the Wild a two goal lead.
Minutes later, Rem Pitlick found a patient Dimitri Kulikov for his first in 622 days.
The second half of the second was a penalty fest, slowing down a game that was already going to last beyond when many fans were going to bed. Fortunately, the Wild kept the action up to attempt to keep some people awake. First, on a Wild powerplay, Matt Dumba’s turnover turned into an excellent save by Kaapo.
Shortly after, Kaprizov scored a beer league goal on a sleeping Arizona 5-on-3 penalty kill.
The third period started with the Wild concluding around 40 seconds of a powerplay without a goal. Nico Sturm took a trip shortly after the teams returned to even strength. Both teams appeared to be starting to check out, with quality of play taking a turn for the worse. As the play began to decline, the Wild gave up a goal after Kaprizov got caught sleeping with his man slipping behind him. The four goal lead was cut to three.
The final few minutes of the game saw good chances for both teams, but none of them found the back of the net.
Regardless of the competition, the game was a victory in almost every imaginable category. While this wasn’t the prettiest win or the most fun game to watch, it still counted for two points.
Can the Wild take the lead in the first period?
The Wild shot out of the gates, a very unusual occurrence for the season so far. While they greatly out-skilled Arizona, they critically outworked them. Gaps were open everywhere in the defensive zone, only being expanded by the hustle of the Wild attack throughout the night. Despite the game being very ugly and Arizona clearly being the worse team, the Wild proved they could step on the throat of a worse team right away, a skill they have lacked in years prior.
Can Kahkonen build off his last start?
Kaapo played a decent game, although he wasn’t tested much when it mattered. Aside from the breakaway save, he didn’t see too many high percentage chances until the final few minutes when the Wild seemed to mail it in a bit. Both goals he gave up were pretty tough to blame him for, with the first being a breakaway and the second being a shooting defenseman unchecked in the high slot. Despite the initial concerns, Kaapo seems to be mounting a comeback and will hopefully be able to take some of the load off of Cam Talbot’s back throughout the stretch.