When viewed only on the stat sheet, the Wild penalty killers put in a decent work shift Tuesday night, facing seven Vancouver man-advantages and allowing one goal against the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play while scoring once shorthanded.
That, however, was the problem. The Wild’s penalty killers were on the ice way too often, and that kept the team from finding an offensive rhythm in a 4-3 loss to the Canucks that evened the Western Conference qualifying series at a game apiece. The propensity to take penalties was in stark contrast to Game 1, when a disciplined Minnesota team stayed out of the box until the game’s final five minutes.
That final score is a bit misleading. The Canucks led 4-1 in the third period before Wild forward Kevin Fiala scored goals with 2:28 and 9 seconds left to set the final score. Brad Hunt’s desperation shot from center ice just before the final horn nearly fooled Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom, who recovered just in time to stop the knuckling puck and colossal embarrassment.
“Obviously, it was a little too late there, but it showed that our group did not quit,’’ Wild coach Dean Evason said. “… We’ll build off everything we can possibly build off.’’
So, now we have ourselves an even best-of-five series, and you won’t have to stay up into the wee hours for Thursday’s Game 3, which will be played at 1:30 p.m. Central Time.
Here are three other takeaways from Tuesday’s late game:
1. The expected Canucks pushback happened
As well as the Wild played in its 3-0 Game 1 victory, Vancouver has too much talent to go that quietly. Tuesday, Canucks players who were missing in action in the opener showed up big in Game 2. J.T. Miller responded with the third-period power-play goal that made it 4-1 and added an assist. Elias Pettersson, held to two shots Sunday, had a goal, an assist and five shots Tuesday. Bo Horvat, who didn’t have a shot in the opener, responded with five, along with a goal and an assist.
“We were a step behind tonight,’’ Evason said. “We didn’t have that same emotional charge.’’
2. Time for some five-on-five production
The Wild’s six goals in this series have been scored in this manner, in order: power play, power play, empty-net, short-handed, extra attacker, extra attacker. If the Wild is to advance, scoring at even strength will be needed. The team can’t rely on special teams alone. Improving in the faceoff circle would help, since the Wild won only 25 draws to the Canucks’ 43 on Tuesday.
“We’ve just got to regroup,’’ said Wild forward Luke Kunin, who tied the score 1-1 in the first period with a short-handed goal. “We know we’ve got to be better.’’
3. The Fiala Show
Kevin Fiala has been the Wild’s best offensive threat, scoring three goals and taking a team-high 11 shots. He also spent much of Game 2 in conversations with officials, arguing for penalty calls against the Canucks. There’s a balance Fiala must maintain between lobbying and frustration to avoid Vancouver from taking him off his game. In what now is down to a best-of-three series, the Wild needs a focused goal-scorer, and Fiala rebounded well with the two extra-attacker markers late in the third period.