As the NHL saying goes, it's not a playoff series until somebody wins on the road. If that's the case, then the Wild and Vegas Golden Knights certainly have themselves a playoff series.
With its 1-0 overtime victory in Game 1 on Sunday in Las Vegas, the Wild showed that its 5-1-2 record against the Golden Knights in the regular season wasn't a product of smoke and mirrors. Behind Cam Talbot's 42 saves and a patient, structured game that showed no panic when under pressure, coach Dean Evason's squad weathered a stormy first period and hung around long enough for Joel Eriksson Ek to finally solve Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 3:20 into overtime.
Game 2 on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena is certain to feature pushback from a Golden Knights team that won the Western Conference title in its inaugural season in 2018 and played for another conference crown last year.
With that in mind, here are three keys for the Wild in its quest to take a 2-0 series lead:
1. Score first
It's simple, right? The Wild scored first on Sunday and won the game. Chances are, Game 2 won't need overtime to get to the first goal, and a Vegas team that tied for third with 191 goals in the regular season has the talent to get on opponents early.
"We can help ourselves by making them play from behind,'' said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer, whose team was 31-3-2 in the regular season when scoring first. "If we get the first goal, the other team has to open it up a bit, and sometimes games look different because of that.''
In the regular-season series between the Wild and Vegas, the team that scored first won six of the eight games. Overall, Minnesota outscored opponents 60-40 in the first period this season.
2. Stay physical, but don't take the bait
Golden Knights tough guy Ryan Reaves tried to set a physical tone from the get-go in Game 1, trying to get in the Wild's heads, especially the line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The Wild matched and even surpassed the Golden Knight's physicality, and it did so without ending up in the penalty box for fighting. In turn, that rendered Reaves' tactics ineffective.
Look for Vegas to revisit that approach. If Reaves and, say, Marcus Foligno each spend five minutes in the box, that's an advantage for the Golden Knights.
"They're big and heavy,'' said Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb, whose 10 hits Sunday tied for the team lead with Reaves. "… We've got size and we play that way, too, so it's definitely going to be [physical] going forward.''
3. Create doubt in Vegas
By adhering to the steady, grind-it-out approach Evason has instilled, the Wild has the type of game that can frustrate and wear down opponents, as evidenced by a 75-58 scoring advantage in the third period and OT this season. And if Talbot is dialed-in like he was Sunday, sooner or later the Wild's 12-2-3 all-time record against Vegas could get in the Golden Knights' heads.
The Wild has DeBoer's attention, and he doesn't see the team as a fluke.
"I don't look at last night's game as we totally outplayed them and walked out of there robbed,'' DeBoer said Monday. "… We can be better, and we have to be better.''