Sometimes a hot goalie makes all the difference. Unfortunately for the Minnesota Wild, that hot goalie was was netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who made highlight save after highlight save to backstop the Vegas Golden Knights to a 5-1 victory, earning their West division foes another crucial two points and handing Minnesota their first series sweep of the season. Marcus Foligno continued his hot streak and ruined Fleury’s shutout bid with a second-period score, but slow period starts and odd-man rushes doomed the Wild, despite generating 37 shots and multiple high-quality chances that couldn’t quite find the back of the net.
The best thing about the Wild in the first 10 minutes of the game were their Reverse Retro jerseys, as most of the Minnesota roster seemed to be skating in syrup during the opening minutes of the game. Former Wild prospect Alex Tuch never got to wear the green and gold throwback colors and clearly is upset about it, scoring his second goal in as many games just two minutes into the first, giving Vegas an early lead.
But as the Wild found their feet, Fleury shut down just about any hope the Wild had at equalizing, often in highlight-reel fashion. He stopped a number of Kirill Kaprizov scoring opportunities as “Dolla Bill” made good on his promise in an earlier interview to shoot the puck more.
Then, as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the first, Fleury absolutely stonewalled a Jared Spurgeon shot that had eyes on evening the score.
Cam Talbot also got in on the gotta-see-it-save action, robbing Max Pacioretty’s chance to expand the Golden Knights’ lead.
The Wild’s second period started just as sloppily as the first, as their best chance early came on a 3-on-1 that ended in slapstick fashion with a poor pass and a Wild collision that should have had it’s own wacky sound effects.
Objectively this Wild blown 3-1 is kind of hilarious pic.twitter.com/wSNBYttAKX— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) March 4, 2021
The Knights got their first power play of the game as Ian Cole resorted to hooking Pacioretty to stop another golden scoring chance, but while the Wild did manage to kill the penalty, seconds after getting back to five-on-five Vegas expanded the lead to two on a Tuch pass to Johnathan Marchessault, who went top shelf past Talbot.
But like the first period, once the clock got down to three digits instead of four, the Wild finally got some sustained pressure. Jordan Greenway started the action with a pair of fantastic scoring opportunities on a shot and rebound which Fleury somehow willed to stay out of the net. Seconds later off the ensuing faceoff, Fleury’s magic wore off for a moment, and an Ian Cole shot trickled through the Knights’ goaltender just enough for Marcus Foligno to find the puck and push it past the line, cutting the lead to one and continuing Moose’s recent hot streak of five goals and three assists in his last six games.
The Wild continued to pepper Fleury in the second with feel-good-story Nico Sturm leading the charge. Sturm had a 1-on-1 chance just glance aside off Fleury, and then later put a puck past the Vegas goaltender, but caught just enough of his glove on the puck that the goal was waived off due to a handpass.
In the final minute, the Wild had an unfortunate shift that saw Joel Eriksson Ek take a skate to the face, Matt Dumba skated into either Ryan Reeves’ elbow or the butt end of his stick and immediately went down the tunnel, and Greenway capped it off with an interference call to give the Golden Knights their second power play of the game. Luckily for the Wild, nothing came of either the nicks nor the penalty.
The Wild came out stronger in the third than they had in the first two, but then suddenly had to deal with more close-call injuries. Victor Rask left the ice with an apparent hand or arm injury and Foligno was tripped and slammed into the boards, drawing the call but getting up slow - though both players later returned. To add insult to almost-injuries, Kaprizov was mugged by Stephanson with no call, and then Pacioretty punched and slammed Fiala into the glass several times after a whistle, and though Fiala did almost nothing to retaliate, the refs decided to put them both in the box. Moments later, a series of mistakes by the Wild sprung Stephenson and Stone on a two-on-one, with Stone burying an easy goal that put the Golden Knights back up by two.
Vegas continued to burn the Wild with odd-man rushes, and Chandler Stephenson got in on the action, sniping Talbot to put the game out of reach with under four minutes to play. Tack on an empty netter and you’ve got yourselves a final score as the Golden Knights took care of business 5-1.
The Wild have got to have a short memory after their hot streak and offensive explosion fizzled out against a top team in the West. Minnesota can get a couple of those points in the standings back against an Arizona team with whom they should be more competitive, and a goalie they know well in Darcy Kuemper, as they’ll face off against the Coyotes back-to-back on Friday and Saturday night.
Will we finally see a defensive battle?
As far as Vegas goes, for sure. Fleury made all kinds of unbelievable stops and the Vegas defense was there to break up passes and clean up the rest. The Wild, on the other hand, looked okay in the defensive zone early but were prone to mistakes later, giving up multiple odd-man rushes that factored in heavily on the 5-1 final. Talbot didn’t look bad, but outside of a few early saves, he wasn’t given much of a chance to look good.
What does Parise have left in the tank?
While we won’t know what Parise would have brought to this game had he played, I can’t imagine his presence would have made any difference on the result, especially with how he’s looked lately. Sure, there were some net-front grinds that maybe he could have gotten a stick on, but it’s hard to believe that Parise would have had any more luck against Fleury than the likes of Kaprizov, Fiala or Greenway had. At the very least, here’s hoping the sent message fires up the veteran for the Coyotes series.
Can the Wild avoid their first series sweep?
Sadly, no. And as mentioned in the preview, even if the Wild were to lose this game, you would have hoped to see a result that would lead you to believe that (a) the Wild are capable of skating stride-for-stride with the Golden Knights in a potential playoff series, and (b) that the loss wouldn’t be the kind of frustrating one that would work on the psyches of the players heading into a back-to-back with Arizona and a rematch with the Golden Knights next week. While the advanced stats will tell you the Wild actually kept up with Vegas, that they should have scored a few more goals than they got and Fleury really was the difference, this was the kind of loss where you could see the frustration building for Minnesota late in the game. They’ve got to shake it off and take care of business against Arizona, because the schedule does not get any easier for the rest of March.