Though the eyes of the hockey world were on Rangers/Capitals, what otherwise could have been the NHL’s marquee game of the night between the Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights did not disappoint. But unfortunately for the Wild, a stellar effort from Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and an overtime winner by Alex Pietrangelo stole the thunder from yet another third period comeback by the Wild, as Vegas stole the much-needed extra standings point in the extra session by a score of 3-2, winning a game that saw more than it’s share of feistiness and flying fists.
Future Calder trophy award winner Kirill Kaprizov scored two third-period goals 2:10 apart to give the Wild their first lead of the game, but a bizarre hooking call on Mats Zuccarello gave the Golden Knights the opportunity they needed as Reilly Smith scored on the power play to force the extra frame. Cam Talbot stopped 31 shots on 34 attempts for Minnesota, and Ryan Hartman added a pair of assists for the Wild.
After Monday’s come-from-behind victory by the Wild got chippy at times, it was to be expected that the second game of the series would see some bad blood. And sure, there was the occasional scrum or fracas throughout the first period. But I don’t think anyone expected the absolute donnybrook that occured at the 9:44 mark of the first period.
It all started when Nick Hague took a cheap run at Kaprizov, boarding him from behind into the dasher boards.
Another angle of Hague's hit on Kaprizov. pic.twitter.com/YpoRbEW1GT— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) May 6, 2021
The entire on-ice complement for the Wild was rightfully incensed, and everyone started throwing hands, including Dolla Bill himself.
Somehow, the refs actually entertained the idea of giving Kaprizov a five-minute major, thinking that he clobbered Zach Whitecloud in the head with his stick. The replay review showed he didn’t, and Kaprizov only got a minor for his involvement. After all the penalties were handed out, Minnesota got a two-minute power play out of the bargain, but couldn’t convert.
Tempers still inflamed, Marcus Foligno offered Hague a chance to answer for his hit on Kaprizov a few minutes later.
And now Foligno and Hague drop the gloves pic.twitter.com/XnBcGYbwkc— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) May 6, 2021
Later in the first (yes, still in the first) Ryan Hartman and Brayden McNabb got feisty and earned matching minors.
lololol this game is chaos. Hartman and McNabb matching minors pic.twitter.com/gI5lIkmeBz— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) May 6, 2021
All in all, the first period saw 30 minutes in total of penalties, but no goals from either squad.
The second period saw significantly less aggression, but did see the game’s first goal when Matt Dumba fumbled the puck, and Chandler Stephenson went in alone to beat Cam Talbot to put the Vegas up one.
As has been a recent trend lately, the Wild struggled getting the puck on net in the second period, and Fleury absolutely stonewalled anything that Minnesota did get through to him. In fact, the Wild went shotless for over a ten-minute stretch in the second frame. So for the fourth straight contest, the Wild would head into the third period down and looking for the comeback.
And if the first two periods were any indication, they’d need a power play or two in order to get things going, because Vegas did a masterful job of shutting down high danger chances at five-on-five.
The Golden Knights kept up the pressure in the third, but Talbot kept making the big saves that Minnesota needed him to make, including a beautiful flash of the leather on Mark Stone.
Talbot’s big saves seemed to be the motivation the Wild needed to get things going - and by the Wild, I mean Kaprizov, who took over the third period all by himself. First, a Wild goal-of-the-year candidate with a tap-in out of midair of a Zuccarello pass to tie the game at one.
Then, just a few minutes later, Kaprizov jumps all over a Ryan Hartman faceoff win and snaps a puck past the glove of a stunned Fleury, giving the Wild their first lead of the night.
He will never ever stop scoring. pic.twitter.com/oVxU3fKOa4— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 6, 2021
But after an absolute head-scratcher of a call on Zuccarello for gently lifting the stick of an opponent (which somehow was deemed to be hooking), Vegas evened things up when Smith tapped home a power-play pass from William Karlsson to tie the game at two a piece.
Vegas did their best to try to prevent the game from getting to overtime, but a key stick check by Joel Eriksson Ek and a huge sweep save by Talbot in the final seconds ensured the Wild would earn at least one point in the standings.
In overtime, the Wild didn’t get much going on an extended shift from Kaprizov-Eriksson Ek-Zuccarello, though Dolla Bill continued to show the kinds of skills that are going to ensure his Calderability:
What a defensive effort from Kaprizov in OT. pic.twitter.com/2VZtDM2di4— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 6, 2021
But where the Wild would likely have turned to Kevin Fiala on the second shift, without their other gamebreaker due to a late pregame scratch head coach Dean Evason decided to toss out Victor Rask, Marcus Johansson and Jonas Brodin. Brodin had the best chance of the three on a sharp-angle shot that went over the net, but a long shift led to a poor pass by Johannson to Rask that was broken up and taken the other way by the Golden Knights. Alex Pietrangelo whiffed on his first attempt on the bouncing puck on the ensuing odd-man rush, but just seconds later a pass from Alex Tuch gave Pietrangelo a much better look, and he made the best of it.
Yes, Rask had some decent opportunities on the night including a couple hit posts in the first period, but he also had his share of misplays once again. Why Rask and Johannson are on the second overtime shift is a decision that will likely be questioned over the next 24 hours, and maybe longer if the Wild end up missing out on a Minnesota-Vegas series by a point or two.
If the Wild do draw the Golden Knights for a seven-game series in the first round, tonight’s game (as well as Monday’s) gave a glimpse of how great a series that could be. Two teams that are well matched, have offensive gamebreakers and series-stealing goaltenders, and just plain don’t like each other much could make for high drama if the series went the distance.
We’ll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out.
Can Kevin Fiala continue his torrid pace?
Unfortunately, Fiala was a game-time scratch with a lower-body injury.
Russo, though he buried the lede in the pregame, updated fans in the middle of tonight’s contest with some good news on that front:
Can't remember if I tweeted this, but for the late crowd if I did, I'm told Fiala's injury is nothing serious and the Wild are just being cautious— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) May 6, 2021
While the Wild surely could have used him throughout the game (and especially in overtime), playing it safe with the team’s second-best player is the smart decision, especially against a Vegas team that once again took as many shots at Kaprizov as they could muster.
Another no-show by the refs?
I wish. Instead of swallowing their whistle, tonight’s striped pairings made some highly questionable calls, one of which that directly affected the result.
First, you had a brief moment where the refs annouced that, despite getting boarded and then having to fight to protect himself, that somehow Kirill Kaprizov would be the only player in a first-period melee to earn a five-minute major - a decision that, thankfully, was overturned upon review due to the fact that Kaprizov didn’t high stick Whitecloud in the face.
Then, in the third period, this...
... somehow led to a two-minute call on Lizard. The Golden Knights tied the game on the ensuing power play, and the rest is history.
Maybe the messed up season under a shortened timeframe and multiple rescheduled games is having an effect on the officials as well. Because that’s the only explanation I’ve got for some of the calls or non-calls we’ve seen lately.
Can they tighten up that defense?
In a word, no. The game was fast-paced and back-and-forth throughout, but Minnesota once again fell victim to a second period slump where they allowed Vegas carte blanche to the Wild defensive zone. Though things got better in the third (once again), Vegas ended up winning the CF% battle 56-44%, as well as the xGF% comparison 65-35%. Talbot once again stood on his head to keep them in the game and wait out the eventual Wild offensive onslaught, but the end-of-game shot heat map says it all.