LAS VEGAS - Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer expects the Wild to be in the playoffs, a statement he made earlier this week even before Vegas took on the Wild for the first time this season.
And while his prediction might end up being true, the Wild has some work to do to catch up to a bona fide contender such as the Golden Knights.
That much was clear Wednesday even before Vegas inflated the score, running away for a 5-1 victory in front of 2,605 at T-Mobile Arena that wasn't as lopsided as it finished, but a result nonetheless that snapped the Wild's seven-game point streak and put the top-seeded Golden Knights ahead by four points in the West Division after its two-game sweep.
"We can't get sidetracked with these tough losses," winger Marcus Foligno said. "We gotta understand that we're a great hockey team."
Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was terrific, making 36 saves to stymie a Wild offense that had been rolling of late. This was the first time the Wild was held to one goal or less since its return from a COVID-19 shutdown – a 4-0 loss Feb. 16 at Los Angeles.
"Not to get goals tonight was frustrating," Wild coach Dean Evason said. "It seemed like every opportunity they got, it was in our net. Every opportunity we got … Fleury seemed to be there, or we didn't finish. So that was frustrating."
The Golden Knights picked up from where they left off, a three-goal tear Monday to rally for a 5-4 overtime victory — a loss in hindsight that emerges as more of a missed opportunity for the Wild considering its offense dried up in the rematch.
Only 2 minutes, 3 seconds into the game, Alex Tuch (who scored the tying goal in the first meeting) buried a Cody Glass feed off the rush past goalie Cam Talbot.
"They were playing fast, and we didn't have the legs at the start," captain Jared Spurgeon said.
The Wild had chances to even the score, getting two power plays but failing to convert. Overall, the Wild went 0-for-3 and Vegas was 0-for-2.
Rookie Kirill Kaprizov, in particular, had a few looks that sailed over the net, and Spurgeon had a shot that led to the save of the night — a sprawling glove stop by Fleury to keep the puck out seconds before the first period ended.
"I was trying to get it off as quick as you can," Spurgeon said, "and he made a good save."
Only 5:03 into the second, Jonathan Marchessault made it 2-0 on a top-shelf shot that was set up by Tuch.
But after that, the Wild started to push back and Foligno was at the forefront.
He cut the team's deficit in half at 9:58 when he tucked in a puck that rolled behind Fleury in the crease, Foligno's third goal in the series. He also has nine points, including six goals, in his past eight games.
"It's nothing pretty," Foligno said. "They usually aren't with me. But it's nice to just get rewarded."
Again, in the third, the Wild flexed its competitiveness by pressuring the Golden Knights and challenging Fleury in tight. But the netminder, who was appearing in his 861st game to surpass ex-North Star Gump Worsley for sole possession of 12th place on the NHL's career list, was clutch — especially on the Wild's third power play.
He made two key saves on Kevin Fiala and got a piece of a Kaprizov attempt with his shoulder.
"He's a good goalie," Fiala said. "He makes saves. It's frustrating."
Soon after, the Golden Knights rewarded Fleury with some breathing room — a successful 2-on-1 finish by captain Mark Stone at 11:08 while play was at 4-on-4. And with 3:22 to go, Chandler Stephenson tacked on a fourth with a rising backhander before William Karlsson scored into an empty net at 17:41.
Talbot totaled 23 saves.
"We just didn't finish tonight," Evason said, "but our effort was there."