For the third time since their inception, the Vegas Golden Knights have blown a 3-1 series lead and will be forced to play in a Game 7. The Minnesota Wild is trying to replicate what the San Jose Sharks accomplished in 2019 when they completed the comeback and took Game 7 in an overtime thriller. This will be a massive test for the Golden Knights as the Wild are 3-0 in Game 7s in franchise history.
Wild General Manager Bill Guerin had multiple goaltenders to choose from in free agency last offseason, and he ultimately landed on veteran Cam Talbot who was coming off an excellent performance in the bubble. After moving on from Devan Dubnyk, the stopgap between the pipes has paid dividends for a team desperate for just average goaltending.
Talbot had yet another strong showing in his 23-save shutout performance that would inevitably help the Wild force Game 7 that will take place on Friday night. Talbot saved 1.89 goals above expected based on the quality of shots he faced on a night when the Golden Knights had a nearly 62 percent probability of winning according to MoneyPuck’s deserve-to-win-o-meter. Talbot is behind only Connor Hellebuyck and Jack Campbell in goals saved above expected thus far in the postseason.
He was once again a calming force between the pipes that helped the Wild erase the first two periods in a three-goal third period with goals from Ryan Hartman, Kevin Fiala, and Minnesota native Nick Bjugstad. In a night where the Wild controlled just 40.63 percent of shot attempts and 45.05 percent of expected goals at 5-on-5, they needed guys to step up and not just depend on Talbot to singlehandedly steal another game even though he pretty much still was the biggest difference-maker in the game.
Hartman – who displayed his team-first mentality in his newly signed three-year contract extension – scored the first goal minutes into the third period from a nice feed from Fiala, which was originally started by Zach Parise. Fiala scored the game’s second goal in his two-point performance after getting held off the scoresheet in the first five games. Bjugstad finished the night with a nice backhand on a breakaway.
The Wild’s strong defensive structure continues to be a difference-maker in the series. While they are continually outshot, they have controlled the higher share of high-danger chances at 5-on-5. Their ability to force the Golden Knights to the perimeter has been a huge reason they have been successful. The Golden Knights are not a team that will be sniping shots from the perimeter and circles, they like to score their goals on the doorstep and in the slot. The absence of Max Pacioretty is a huge loss for the Golden Knights, who desperately need his elite finishing ability.
Officiating in the playoffs so far has been questionable at the very best, but the Wild were able to finally get a call in their favor in regards to a third-period goal scored by Alex Tuch that was called no goal, even after the Golden Knights challenged it and were assessed a minor penalty for it as a result.
In my opinion, these kinds of calls are ridiculous because you should be able to be at the top of the blue paint if the goalie is still able to play his position. However, this was the right call because there were already two goals called off in identical situations. Consistency-wise, the refs got it correct, but this needs to be changed.
In a series where there hasn’t been any consistency, the Wild were able to get the call they needed as it would have tied the game and could have shifted momentum in a huge Game 6.
For the second time in the series – on the verge of elimination – the Wild managed to escape elimination and survive another day.
The Wild will need to keep this desperation mindset going into Game 7 as it all comes down to this final game. “It all starts at zero, you know, so, we’re gonna realize that and have a great start…,” Fiala said in the post-game presser.
It also benefits the Wild that the Golden Knights have a lot of injures and such right now. Max Pacioretty, their biggest goal scorer, has been out all series. It is believed that agitator Ryan Reaves is injured, along with Thomas Nosek. Furthermore, Brayden McNabb is on the NHL’s COVID protocols list. The Wild need to come ready and take advantage of these key players absent from the Golden Knights’ lineup.
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Top forward prospect Matt Boldy almost made his NHL debut with game-time decisions for several players, but he didn’t end up drawing in the lineup. It is unlikely, barring injury, he will play in the postseason as head coach Dean Evason has elected to stick with what he’s got. Questionable, probably, but the Wild now sit tied in the best-of-seven series.
The Minnesota Wild need to stick to their game which will hopefully lead them to taking down the Golden Knights in the action-packed seven-game series. They need to remain defensively sound and need continued production from their depth as the Golden Knights have done an excellent job at keeping Kaprizov and Fiala – who have a combined two goals – from the scoresheet.
It will be critical that the Wild play a complete game on Friday and are able to shut down the Golden Knights’ offensive powerhouse. It will be integral that the Wild’s top guns – Kaprizov and Fiala – are able to get on the scoresheet in what is set up to be a Game 7 thriller.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers, Zone Coverage, and GonePuckWild. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.