This isn’t his first playoff series, but it certainly should be the one with the highest expectations. Kirill Kaprizov was able to get his post-season feet wet against the Vegas Golden Knights last year, but between it being his rookie campaign, how much COVID seeped into every little factor of the season, and just generally how the Minnesota Wild’s season stuttered around; there wasn’t that much pressure on the team and its star.
Now, with the most successful season in the franchise’s 21 years of existence, and Kaprizov taking his Calder Trophy and rising into an entirely different tier of player, among some of the greatest in the game right now, there certainly are expectations for the Wild to at least find some success in the playoffs.
But for Kaprizov himself, he just shrugs off that supposed increase demand.
“I don’t feel the pressure, but it’s just up to me and all the players to score goals, and had we scored those goals in the first game, obviously it would be different,” Kaprizov said after Wednesday’s Game 2 win, through a translator. “But overall, I think the team did that today. We were able to score the goals when we needed to, and so we all take the onus on ourselves to be better and focus on the next game.”
Kaprizov did end up scoring some very timely goals on Wednesday. With a 4-0 lead diminished to 4-2 and the St. Louis Blues increasing their pressure with about 15 minutes left in the game, the Wild’s star winger managed to snap back the game from the opponent’s clutches with a forceful tally with just over eight minutes remaining, to kill all hope on the Blues bench.
KIRILL + ZUCC = GOAL. 5-2 MIN. pic.twitter.com/WBZjf8hy5l— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 5, 2022
After Game 1 and the lackluster performance all over the lineup, there were some decisions that needed to be made. They ended up just doing one swap — defenseman Dmitry Kulikov out for Alex Goligoski — and kept the strategy fairly the same.
Head coach Dean Evason knew that Kaprizov had the chances, and that he will find a way to score on them no matter what.
“We talked after (Game 1) about what are we going to have to do to free him up. We’re not going to have to do anything,” Evason said. “He’s just going to do what he does. He’s just going to play hard. Sure, he’s got two, three people around him. They’re trying to hit him. He’s just going to play through it. He just stays the course, just goes about his business.”
Kaprizov is going to be double-teamed, he is going to be triple-teamed at times, but he will just find a way because that is who he is, clearly. He finished Game 2 with a hat trick and five shots on goal, and demonstrated enough puck responsibility, registering zero giveaways and one takeaway.
We have already seen an incredible improvement over the last 82 games from Kaprizov, and now he’s showing his talents even more in the post-season.