The Wild were the only team in the NHL to have not lost a game to the Vegas Golden Knights. That’s almost like playing with house money. Well, the Wild flew into Sin City with a big, sweaty bankroll and raked in all the chips at T-mobile Arena Friday night. The Wild team that just beat the Pacific Division leaders is a team that looks like it could be dangerous in the post-season. With a 4-2 victory, the Wild wouldn’t let the lights and sounds of Las Vegas dazzle them in a much needed road win.
Oh, and if you didn’t know, Jason Zucker is the only player in the NHL to grow up in Las Vegas. Friday was his very first game in his hometown, and with his wife and kids, his family, and a boat load of Wild fans in attendance, he’d be the one to open the scoring in the first period. He played a solid game in an overall aspect, but that goal was one he’ll likely remember for a long time.
Nino Niederreiter started the by applying the forecheck in the right offensive corner. He was able to gather the puck and it started what would be many great shifts throughout the game for the Zucker - Eric Staal - Niederreiter line. Eventually, Nino would get the puck back in the trapezoid area behind the Golden Knight net and center a pass for Zucker in the left offensive circle for a one timer that even drew cheers from the VGK faithful.
The last time the Wild had two 30-goal scorers on the team was ten years ago when Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston each cracked the 30-goal plateau in the 2007-08 season. Since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter joined the team, the closest they’ve come to having two 30-goal scorers was in 2013-14 when Jason Pominville had 30 goals, and Parise narrowly missed the mark with 29. Jason Zucker’s goal in the first period of Friday’s game gives him 29 for the season with 11 games to go. You have to think he finally breaks that mark so that him and Staal become the first Wild players to make that feat in 10 years.
The Wild played out the rest of the period to a 1-0 lead with a lot of pace and “oozing work ethic” all night as Michael Russo of The Athletic characterized it.
The beginning of the 2nd period was pure craziness. Minnesota tried to pick up right where they left off from the first period. With pressure in the Knights’ zone, a blocked shot sent the the Golden Knights the other way on a 2-on-1. To Alex Stalock’s benefit, the puck sailed just wide of the net. It’s what plagued the Golden Knights most of the night - not hitting the net. Stalock was good when he needed to be, but a post by John Merrill and a few shots by Erik Haula and Company that wasn’t on goal made the night easier for him. Well...outside of him playing the puck and making a couple errors that had the potential to be a lot worse than what they were.
Matt Cullen’s line looked good as well. Cullen made a play to intercept a pass just inside the Knights’ line to keep the pressure on. The puck would cycle back to the corner and then up to the point for Jonas Brodin. Brodin found Cullen streaking to the net, but a body and stick in the way didn’t allow Cullen to get the puck on Marc-Andre Fleury. Instead, Charlie Coyle pounced on the loose puck and roofed it over Fleury for the 2-1 lead. Shortly thereafter, Zucker would lead a 2-on-1 with Staal, but instead of shooting the puck, he tried to drag the puck around the Vegas defender in prone position. Staal couldn’t get it to go, but as the puck slide wide of the net, Zucker found the puck as he flew around the net and passed it to Matt Dumba. Dumba was there and lifted the puck over Fleury for a 3-1 lead. It was Dumba’s 11th of the year.
Minnesota controlled the shots counter by out-shooting Vegas 24-15 after two periods.
Former Wild forward Erik Haula would get the Knights on the board right after their power play time had just expired. Ryan Carpenter would cut the deficit to one goal before Parise would add an empty net goal.
With the Wild missing Jared Spurgeon for a month on a torn hamstring, the Wild were able to call-up Zack Mitchell and Ryan Murphy. Both came in a played well. Mitchell had one penalty taken, but overall his effort was good. Nick Seeler was tasked with fighting off big, tough guy Ryan Reaves in front of the Wild net all night long.
The Wild head across the desert to the Phoenix area to take on the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. Minnesota’s play as of late against the Coyotes has been uninspiring, to say the least. They also may meet old friend Darcy Kuemper in net for Arizona. Likely not, but it is possible.