EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Igniting a physical row with the Canucks was instrumental to the Wild’s success in Game 1, the sandpaper style helping the team buff out a decisive 3-0 win.
But this approach can also be taxing.
What can alleviate that toll is manageable shift lengths and rolling all four lines and three defensive pairings, a balanced attack that the Wild had in its best-of-five qualifying-round debut.
“We were able to play everybody,” coach Dean Evason said. “When you have everybody as committed as they are and doing the right things … when that happens, it saves your body. It makes the guys feel real good, makes them feel responsible, and if they continue to get the job done, you continue to put them in those spots.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter played a team-high 23 minutes, 36 seconds, but the ice time wasn’t even close to his career average for the playoffs (27:32). He and partner Jared Spurgeon took the most shifts, at 27, but the team average was 21. And no one’s shifts averaged more than a minute.
“Every line can have a huge impact on this series,” center Alex Galchenyuk said Monday on a video call from the team’s hotel. “Whether it’s one line stepping up one game and then the other ones step up other games, just keep building off that and I think we’ll have a really balanced team.”
Being comfortable enough to deploy bottom-six forwards and third-pairing defensemen helps the team keep minutes more equally distributed, and the Wild coaching staff has that trust in the team’s depth players.
“It allows us to hopefully stay fresh and energized for a long series,” Evason said.
Evason elaborated on his goaltending decision Monday, explaining the Wild opted to go with Alex Stalock since he was the one in charge of the crease when the season was stopped in March by the coronavirus pandemic.
And although he began 2019-20 as Devan Dubnyk’s backup and was making only his second career playoff start, Stalock capitalized on the opportunity — snuffing out all 28 shots from the Canucks to post his first playoff victory and shutout.
“We had a very difficult decision,” Evason said. “We think, as I stated before, all our goaltenders have played extremely well — in particular Duby and Al from Day 1 of training camp. I guess the bottom line was Al was the goaltender at the pause that was going to play in the Vegas game [on March 12]. We didn’t feel he had lost that position through training camp and through the pause.”
No place like home
Spurgeon became the first defenseman in Wild history to tally three points in a playoff game, spearheading the offense in the Game 1 win with two goals and an assist.
And the setting was notable.
Counting his last regular-season appearance at Rogers Place, Spurgeon has five goals in his past two official games in his hometown of Edmonton. He scored his first career hat trick Feb. 21 against the Oilers.
“A lot of good plays by teammates and giving me lots of time,” said Spurgeon, who also had a game-high four blocked shots in 22:46 of ice time. “Obviously, we’re lucky that they were going in [Sunday] for myself, but next game is going to be someone else. Each game is going to be someone else.”
The NHL recorded no positive results among the 7,013 COVID-19 tests administered while it settled into each hub city’s bubble.
From July 27 through Aug. 1, the league conducted daily testing for each team’s 52-member traveling party — which includes players.