NHL playoff hockey is a different game. Fans, media, coaches, and players will all wax poetic about how it’s heavier, harder, and how there is less space on the ice. It may be anecdotal, but there is some truth to it.
If the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild intended to set a physical tone in the opening game of their first-round playoff matchup, let it be known that the message was heard loud and clear.
In their 1-0 thrilling overtime win over the Golden Knights, the hits came heavy and fast:
93 hits through two periods, a franchise-record 53 already for the #mnwild. Greenway with a franchise-record nine.— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) May 16, 2021
(As bogus as it gets)
As Michael Russo of The Athletic points out, the hits statistic can be a bit bogus at times. It’s not as clear-cut as a faceoff wins or a shot on goal, and what constitutes a “hit” is completely subjective. Hit totals can fluctuate depending on where the game is taking place and who the scorekeeper is that night.
What is undeniable is the totals that we saw by the end of the night: 71 hits for the Wild and 57 for the Golden Knights. That total for the Wild was well beyond anything the team had put up in the regular season, where their season-high was 36 against the Los Angeles Kings in a bad 4-0 loss in February. It also resulted in a single-player season-high; Jordan Greenway notched 11 hits, and Marcus Foligno wasn’t far behind with 10 of his own. The previous high this season was seven from Joel Eriksson Ek in that same game against the Kings.
The Wild’s “second” line was responsible for the lone goal in the game and 26 of the 71 hits, and it didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Dean Evason. In the post-game presser, Evason espoused the advantages of having a line that can play that style in the playoffs.
“You watch the game last night and how physical it was,” Evason said. “We’ve got people that have been through it, and we aren’t afraid of the physicality. You mentioned Ek’s line, and they are as physical as any line there is. We’ll match up that way.”
The Golden Knights have their own physically dominant line in Ryan Reaves, William Carrier, and Keegan Kolesar. While that trio doesn't have nearly the offensive production of their Wild counterparts, Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer was comfortable trying to match the two lines against each other all night. When the heaviest lines from each squad are going toe-to-toe, you’re bound to witness some intense minutes.
“That's playoff hockey. On the other side, they’re doing the same things with their big guys.” DeBoer said, “You know it's going to be some tough heavy hockey. [It’s] going to take a lot out of you physically and when you lose a game like that, mentally too.”
Here’s hoping we see the same sort of game in round two, but with a few more goals from the Minnesota Wild side of the lineup card.