After ekeing out a Game 5 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday to avoid elimination, the Minnesota Wild needed a decisive effort to show the hockey world that this series wasn’t over. And after a tight, defensive first two periods, the Wild did everything they had to do, breaking open the scoring floodgates and running away in the third period of Game 6 to a 3-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center, forcing a decisive Game 7 on Friday night. Ryan Hartman’s third period goal from Kevin Fiala would be the only scoring the Wild would need, as Cam Talbot had another terrific outing with 23 saves in the shutout. Kevin Fiala also added a goal and an assist in a breakout playoff performance.
From the drop of the puck, both Minnesota and Vegas looked content to shut things down defensively and wait for their opponent to make the first big mistake and capitalize on a turnover or a goaltending mistake - but for the most part, no game-breaking opportunity was to be had. There were some chances for the Wild in the first period, like Kirill Kaprizov’s between-the-legs set up for Victor Rask, but Marc-Andre Fleury was up to the task.
Kap tries to set up Rask by going betwixt the wickets pic.twitter.com/OHpoNrWj0y— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 27, 2021
Rask had another chance as the time as the final minute ticked off in the first, but despite the breakway setup he couldn’t beat Fleury, who looked like he was ready to have another masterful performance.
As the second period began, you couldn’t blame Wild fans for holding their breath as Minnesota tried to avoid the middle-frame collapse they’d endured over the last two games. But while Vegas did finish with more shots and high-danger chances in the second period, the Golden Knights didn’t do it in dominating fashion and Minnesota more than held their own.
The best chance for Minnesota came on a sweet deke by Kaprizov, who lost the handle when going for the shot.
This was almost SO GOOD pic.twitter.com/CCdE4z3zX8— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 27, 2021
But where Fleury proved his mettle shutting down three high-danger chances in the first, Talbot was called upon to keep the game even in the second. He shut down William Karlsson while falling over to somehow keep the game scoreless.
Woah crazy crazy lucky save pic.twitter.com/wnjNX57rCn— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 27, 2021
And then later, Talbot stopped Matthias Janmark on a fantastic chance, smothering the puck and drawing the faceoff.
But the story of the second period was by far the physical play, which saw Minnesota throwing the body as much as they could to wear down the Golden Knights offense. Marcus Foligno got things going with a check on Zach Whitecloud that put him through the glass - literally:
And then Matt Dumba lined up Alex Tuch with a clean, hard, mid-ice hit that was so nice that, of course, Vegas immediately made him drop the gloves to defend it.
But while both teams were doing their best work over the first two periods, the referees showed, as they had throughout the series, that they were happy to spectate and let the game play itself out, swallowing their whistles on a series of questionable plays that likely would have drawn penalties in the regular season. A clutch and grab by Chandler Stephenson on Joel Eriksson Ek in the first period was the best example of a head-scratching non-call, but at least you can say that they were calling it even, as neither team had a power play through the first 40 minutes.
Refs in fine no-call form already pic.twitter.com/yT2QJ0KDcu— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 27, 2021
After such a defensive-minded and contentious two periods, you had to think that the first goal in the third would be a huge one, whether it was greasy or skillful.
Luckily for the Wild, they chose the skillful route, as 4:21 into the final frame, Zach Parise set up Fiala and Ryan Hartman on a two-on-one. Streaking down the left side of the ice, Fiala made a beautiful play to hold on the puck as long as he could to make Fleury fully commit, then found Hartman on the opposite side with a wide-open net. And with that, Minnesota had gotten on the board, fired up the fans, and put the first seeds of doubt in the minds of the Vegas bench.
And just like other games this series, Vegas seemingly had an answer. Just over four minutes later, Stephenson took a shot that made its way past Tuch in front of Talbot, and for a brief moment the game seem to be tied at one.
But where the Wild were heartbroken after Marcus Foligno was busted for a controversial goaltender interference in Game 4, it was Alex Tuch’s time for turnabout, as the referees conferred and disallowed Stephenson’s game-tying tally.
Vegas challenged the call, but the call stood, and Wild was awarded a power play for Peter DeBoer wasting everyones’ time (officially, “delay of game.”)
On the ensuing power play, Fiala continued his strong Game 6 by sniping a shot past Fleury, giving the Wild the 2-0 lead.
With the good vibes flowing and Minnesota seemingly ready to coast to a decisive Game 7, the Wild had what seemed to be a scary come-back-to-Earth moment, as Joel Eriksson Ek tangled with Fleury (and perhaps defenseman Nicholas Hague) on a breakway, his left leg crashing into the net as he lost his balance. Eriksson Ek would be carried off the ice by teammates and trainer, and it appeared that the Wild would be without their best centerman for a then-potential series-deciding finale.
Eriksson Ek goes crashing into the post and is helped off the ice. Not putting any weight on that left leg... pic.twitter.com/chXeYc4OGw— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) May 27, 2021
Luckily, and perhaps surprisingly, Ekker returned to the bench and reentered the game a few minutes later, allowing the entire State of Hockey to catch their collective breath.
To add to the celebratory atmosphere, Nick Bjugstad took a feed from Nico Sturm and scored on a nice Koivu-like deke to beat Fleury, giving the Wild a 3-0 lead and putting a bow on Game 6.
Sturm sets up Bjugstad for the breakaway goal. Looks like the dagger... bring on game 7 pic.twitter.com/pjktpSsPYD— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 27, 2021
Vegas did get a late power play, but they would not be able to convert as Minnesota held on in the decisive shutout victory. Both teams will head back to Las Vegas for Game 7 as the Colorado Avalanche patiently await the series victor, having dispached the St. Louis Blues in a four-game sweep.
The Wild have to be confident heading into Game 7 not only because of the strong, three-period effort Wednesday night, but because Game 7s are kind of their jam. In franchise history, Minnesota is 3-0 in seventh games, having defeated Colorado and Vancouver in 2003, as well as Colorado again in 2014, with all three victories coming on the road. Two of those three (both in 2003) came after being down 3-1 in the series, so there’s precident there as well for the Wild being able to close out the Golden Knights on Friday.
Speaking of Friday’s Game 7, the puck will drop at 8 p.m. Central.
Minnesota has the history, and after tonight, they’ve got the momentum.
Is it Friday yet?! LET’S. GO.
Can Calen Addison build on his strong debut?
I wouldn’t say Addison had a brilliant game, but he wasn’t really called to. Seeing only 9:53 of icetime, Addison finished with a plus-1, with one blocked shot and one giveaway. He certainly didn’t have the game that Jared Spurgeon did (two assists, two shots and five blocks in 24:38 TOI), but the rookie wasn’t a liability, so that’s absolutely a win in a game where both teams had to be defensively sound over the first two periods.
What did Cam Talbot do to deserve this?
The original question was tongue-in-cheek, but Cam Talbot deserves nearly all of the credit for the Game 6 win. He earned the shutout and made key stops along the way. And while the Wild did edge the Golden Knights in shots 24-23, Vegas did win the attempts battle 23-14 and had seven high-danger chances to the Wild’s 6.
But while Vegas did win the CF% battle (60-40%) as well as the xGF (1.78-1.37), Minnesota did a lot more to protect their goalie and limit the absolute shelling he’s faced lately. Credit to the defenseman like Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter, who all had strong games for the Wild.
Will Kirill see any action with either Joel Eriksson Ek or Kevin Fiala?
Though Matt Boldy’s potential NHL debut was the talk of the pregame (with Foligno and Bonino both game-time decisions), Dean Evason had his regular roster at his disposal for Game 6, so no lineup changes were necessary. Because of that, Kaprizov spent almost all of his 16:45 TOI playing alongside Mats Zuccarello and Victor Rask. And while Kaprizov had his hand in a couple of chances (as seen in the video above), Kirill was more fiesty than “en fuego.” He didn’t record a single shot in the game, but he did seem to be getting under the skin of some of the Golden Knights, while Fiala and Bjugstad were the ones to have breakout performances.
No doubt about it, though, he’ll have to factor in on Friday night if the Wild want to finish off Vegas - especially if they have Max Pacioretty back for the series finale.