Moral victories aren’t fun, but at the end of the day a point is a point. Minnesota fell to Calgary in tonight’s game, but picked up a consolation prize of one point in a 5-4 shootout. This matchup was the end of a four-game home stand in which the Minnesota Wild went 1-2-1 inside of Xcel Energy Center.
Only a day after earning an overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets, Devan Dubnyk had the night off. Prior to the start of the game, Dubnyk was honored, as he was surrounded by family, for reaching the milestone of 500 games played. It was truly a wonderful moment to see for a player who has been so influential for the Wild. After the ceremony finished, it was time to get rolling, and that’s exactly what both teams did in the first period.
The Wild went on the power play nearly four minutes into the game and were quick to capitalize. Only a minute in, Kevin Fiala fired a hard slap shot, which managed to funnel its way through David Rittich’s legs for the opening goal of the night.
Calgary responded nearly five minutes later on a power play of their own, and equalized with a goal that came off the skate of Milan Lucic and went five-hole on Alex Stalock thanks to a failed clearance from the Wild defense.
Keeping in line with the up-tempo nature of the first period, the Wild responded only 30 seconds later as Calgary, looking to go forward in the contest, turned over the puck in the neutral zone. Joel Eriksson Ek recovered the puck and his ensuing shot was deflected by Rittich straight out to Marcus Foligno. Foligno then skated left and fired a clinical rocket shot across goal into the top right shelf of the net for the Wild’s second goal in their first three attempts of the period.
After a penalty kill from Minnesota and nice saves from Rittich, Calgary once again found the back of the net to tie the game at two apiece with 4:22 to go in the first period. The goal came off a one-time shot from Travis Hamonic, and was his third goal of the season. His shot zipped by Stalock over his left shoulder, and clanked home off the top post. Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund were credited with the assists on the play.
However, the Wild did not go down without a fight in the already fast and furious first period. With under a minute to go, after a Calgary turnover, Minnesota executed great puck movement in transition. The puck eventually found its way to Foligno as he sent a shot into the left corner of the net for his second of the night. His goal marks his eighth career multi-goal game, and most importantly, a 3-2 lead for the Wild. Matt Dumba and Luke Kunin were credited with the assists on the play.
While the first period witnessed five goals in quick succession, the second period featured a slower style of play. Despite giving up two goals in the first, Stalock knuckled down in the second and made many spectacular saves to thwart the Flames’ attack multiple times, including a nice one-on-one play on a breakaway to send the puck away with 15 minutes to go in the period. Credit also has to be given Rittich as he held steadfast when the Wild began to up their attack, as Minnesota outshot the Flames 12-10 in the scoreless period.
The final period began with the score still at 3-2. Then, Calgary reignited their offensive flame in the early stages. Nearly two minutes in, Michael Stone fired an absolute beauty past Stalock from the top of the key. The puck sailed into the top right corner to tie the game at 3-3.
In an almost “hold my beer” moment, the Wild responded 42 seconds later on a cheeky one-timed goal from Jordan Greenway, who found the back of the net on an assist from Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter to put Minnesota ahead 4-3. The Flames, however, did not go quietly without throwing another haymaker, as Zach Parise was sent to the box for a cross-check, and Calgary went on the power play with six minutes to go.
Nearly 16 seconds into the man-advantage, the Flames found the back of the net to tie the game (again) at 4-4 after the puck deflected off Ryan Suter’s stick. The puck bounced over to Mark Giordano for a slick finish, which was assisted by Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau. Both teams had chances to put the game on ice in the remaining minutes of the third, but were unable to convert and the matchup went into overtime.
During the first half of overtime, the Wild were able to secure a power play opportunity, and had several good chances, but were unable to succeed. With the score still tied at 4-4, the teams headed to shootout — something Calgary has been exceptionally good at, and Minnesota has definitely struggled with.
The first three rounds of shootout saw both Stalock and Rittich blank all three shots by the opposing players. Ryan Donato put the Wild on the board with a nifty shot into the top of the net, but then Derek Ryan did the same for Calgary to even the score at 1-1 in the fourth round. Stalock and Rittich did their best imitation of brick walls as they continued to make key saves until Dillon Dube finally got the best of Stalock in the seventh round, ending the game in a 5-4 shootout victory for Calgary. Yes, you read that right — seven rounds of shootout.
This game can be seen as an opportunity gone by the wayside for two points for Minnesota, as the Wild held a one-goal lead twice in the final frame, but were unable to seal the deal. While the Wild had been able to eek out the overtime victory against the Jets last night, tonight proved the opposite for them. The Wild have struggled in overtime this season, and tonight was no exception. With a 4-on-3 advantage during overtime, the Wild were unable to get the puck into the net, nor were five of their six shooters able to get the puck past Rittich in the shootout.
The Wild will get another chance with the Flames on Thursday night in Calgary. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. CT.
1. How will Stalock play?
Despite the final score, Stalock had a pretty decent night in net after two weeks away. Most of the Calgary goals were scored off of odd bounces or swarming at the net where Stalock’s field of vision was blocked by too many skates and sticks. After the frenzied first period, Stalock helped slow down the tempo of the game in the middle period, providing some breathing room for Minnesota to control the play on the ice. And his work in the shootout? Grade-A wonderful, folks. After all, he stopped six of the seven shooters and several of those shots were also Grade-A. Overall, Stalock helped keep the scoreline as close as it was all through the game. It’s just not fair that shootout losses come down to one player, one goaltender, and puck luck.
2. Can the special teams be special?
Y-yes? Sort of. Minnesota was able to score on one of their two power plays (the goal by Fiala in the first to put the Wild up 1-0). However, their penalty kill gave up two goals — Lucic’s tip-in at 9:32 in the first, and Giordano’s wrister in the third that forced the game into overtime. Minnesota also was not able to capitalize on their power play in overtime, despite swarming Rittich with several good chances. The special teams were — something; we’re just not sure if it that something is special.
3. Can the Wild carry momentum from Saturday’s OT winner or will they be worn out in the second of back-to-backs?
Oftentimes in back-to-backs, teams look exhausted in the second game, dropping passes, missing chances, and making poor plays in the defensive zone. The Wild came out of the gate firing in the first period tonight though and didn’t take their foot off the gas, even in overtime. “But what about the slow play in the second?” you ask. The Wild still controlled the direction of play in that middle period and kept the Flames off the scoresheet, showing that a team doesn’t have to skate as fast as Connor McDavid to have momentum. In the end though, the momentum just wasn’t enough, as the shootout ultimately decided a game that shouldn’t have ended up there.