Despite scoring the game’s first goal, earning two power play tallies for the first time in 2021 and finding a way to get four pucks past Philip Grubauer, the Minnesota Wild fell into a second period hole that they couldn’t climb out of, scoring late goals to make it close but ultimately falling to the West division leading Colorado Avalanche by a score of 5-4. Ryan Hartman led the Wild with a three-point night on a goal and two assists, Nick Bjugstad earned a Gordie Howe hat trick on a goal, an assist, and a fight (lopsided as it was), and Cam Talbot stopped 31 shots. But it all wasn’t enough to topple a talented Avalanche squad that rebounded from a quiet start to dominate the second period, led by Nathan MacKinnon and Andre Burakovsky’s two-point nights.
Hartman got things going for the Wild to cap off a strong first period that saw Minnesota dominating the shots and the zone time. Bjugstad gained the puck on the forecheck and fended off the Avalanche’s Ryan Graves, pushing a one-handed pass to Hartman who beat the glove of Grubauer, giving the Wild a 1-0 lead.
GOAL: Hartman from Bjugstad. Wild 1-0 pic.twitter.com/vCjwjYeTol— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
But after owning the ice through the first half of the opening stanza - and a preview of what was to come - the Wild allowed the Avalanche to build momentum as the first period continued. Minnesota managed only two more shots over the remaining 12 minutes of the first period as Colorado more than evened up the zone time and the puck possession.
Then, just moments into the second period, the wheels started to come completely off the wagon.
First, Sam Girard found MacKinnon on a breakaway, who tied the game 18 seconds after the second period puck drop.
MacKinnon ties it at 1 pic.twitter.com/yIBmZmFPFa— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
Just over a minute later, Burakovsky took advantage of an uncharacteristic misplay of the puck by Talbot, kicking the puck to his forehand and burying it into a yawning net. And just like that, the Avalanche were off to the races.
And Burakovsky gives the Avs a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/VvqG1UCDZ5— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
Minnesota had two back-to-back cracks on the power play with Jacob MacDonald off for holding, and just over two minutes later Colorado was assessed a bench minor for too many players, but the Wild couldn’t get much of anything at Grubauer. Bonino had the best PP chance for the Wild on a fantastic no-look pass from Kirill Kaprizov.
Kaprizov has such great hockey sense pic.twitter.com/yKmYL3Ei0a— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
Unfortunately for the Wild, that was one of the only notable moments by their rookie phenom, as Kaprizov had a pretty quiet game with only two shots and a dismal 26.32% Corsi For.
Colorado did not let up, however, and took advantage of every opportunity - as well as an uneven effort from the officials. Brandon Saad’s goal to put the Avs up 3-1 was a perfect example, as the forward blatantly cross-checked Jared Spurgeon in front of the net before wristing a goal past Talbot to give the Avs a two-goal lead.
How is Saad not called here? pic.twitter.com/3CLN7NASKm— Kyle Anway (@KyleTalksHockey) April 6, 2021
The second period bleeding wasn’t over. With just over two minutes to play, Cale Makar’s slapper tipped off a Wild player as well as JT Compher, and Talbot couldn’t react fast enough to the double deflection. Four unanswered goals in the second, and the rout was on.
Even Talbot can't stop a double tip. pic.twitter.com/uvTE2F6gIc— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
Or was it? 3:35 into the third, Ian Cole found Hartman with a beauty of a stretch pass that put the Wild in on a two-on-one. Hartman whiffed on his shot, but had enough wherewithal to find Bjugstad on a drop pass, who buried it to put the Wild back within two.
GOAL Bjugstad scores after Hartman whiffs but still makes the pass pic.twitter.com/I5jmGp4AI4— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
But lest the Avs let the Wild think they were back in the game, the elite Colorado power play (9th in the NHL at 23.4%) made a beauty of a tic-tac-toe play, setting up Gabriel Landeskog on the doorstep and reestablishing Colorado’s three-goal lead.
These are the kind of things that Colorado can do. pic.twitter.com/Za2wlaiCvt— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
Minnesota wasn’t ready to give up, however. On the Wild’s fifth power play attempt of the game, Marcus Johansson, who continued his recent strong play with another solid game tonight against the Avs, took a Ryan Suter rebound off Grubauer and flung a terrible angle shot at the net that somehow trickled through and past the Avalanche netminder. Like that, the Wild were back in it at 5-3 with about 10 minutes to play.
GOAL Johannson on a terrible angle off a blocked Suter shot, somehow trickles in pic.twitter.com/TRYPCQe6L9— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 6, 2021
The comeback attempt would fall just a bit short. Kevin Fiala scored on a wrister with 35 seconds left to give the Wild their second power-play goal of the night and cut the Avs lead to one, but it was too little too late, and the Avalanche held on for the 5-4 victory, stopping the Wild’s team-record home winning streak at 11 games.
The good news is, despite getting completely outclassed the last time these two teams matched up for a series, the Wild actually skated with the Avalanche for the better part of two periods. But if you’re going to battle what is easily the best team in the NHL, you’ve got to come out with a 60 minute effort. 40 minutes of strong hockey bookending 20 minutes of lackluster effort will never be enough to take down a team that boasts players like MacKinnon, Rantanen, Makar and Grubauer.
And no matter what Dean Evason does with the lines, he’s got to get Kaprizov going. The Wild are 19-3-0 when Dolla Bill Kirill gets on the scoresheet... and 4-8-2 when he doesn’t.
To make matters worse, the West teams the Wild are vying with for playoff positioning, the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes, both had pretty good nights. Vegas owned the St. Louis Blues 6-1, and the Coyotes were well on their way to a win against the LA Kings. The last thing the Wild want is a first-round matchup against these same Avalanche.
They’ll get a chance to even the homestand (and end the season series with Colorado on a strong note) on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
What to do with the Wild’s second Line?
In the preview, Justin outlined the potential of Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman and Marcus Johansson to outskate the Avs forecheck. But it was the third line of Johansson, Hartman and Bjugstad that got the most going against the Avalanche to the tune of three goals and four assists. Sure, the line had an uneven night defensively, but when the Wild give up five, just about everyone will be dinged for defensive liabilities. To beat a team like Colorado, you’ve got to put the puck in the net, and the Wild’s third line did.
Kevin Fiala, on the other hand, looked quite strong at times and nearly got the Wild back in the game with his late PPG. But his linemates Victor Rask and Nick Bonino didn’t do him many favors, and Fiala was visibly frustrated throughout the night. Evason has got to figure out what to do with Rask specifically, because he’s killing whatever line he’s on - especially on the power play.
Can the Wild play slowly and carefully?
At times, especially in the third period, the Wild were able to control the pace of play and get their game going against Colorado. But starting out the game, both teams were in a back-and-forth track meet - a style of hockey the Wild are not set up to play and will rarely win against an elite team like the Avalanche.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the second period, where Colorado took their game to the Wild and dominated both in terms of possession and on the scoreboard. It also showed in pure offense, as the Avalanche turned the shot counter on it’s head, changing an 11-6 SOG deficit in the first into a dominant 20-5 shot count in the second.
Slowly? Sure, the Wild looked pretty slow. But careful? Not quite.
Can we shut down the best line in Hockey?