Kirill Kaprizov was off to a quiet start.
He had one shot blocked in the first period April 12 against Edmonton and another attempt stopped during a power play.
On the bench, Kaprizov slumped over with a look of exasperation on his face.
"My hands feel bad," he told the teammate sitting to his right, who swooped into action.
Mats Zuccarello tapped his stick on Kaprizov's right glove over and over again before repeating the process with the left glove.
Meanwhile, the façade of frustration crumbled and Kaprizov finished the night in typical Kaprizov fashion, with a couple of points — in this case, two assists.
"It worked," he said.
This is Kaprizov and Zuccarello in a nutshell, a lighthearted friendship with an inexplicable bond when it comes to hockey that can be summed up in one word: chemistry.
They've been riding shotgun alongside each other while achieving their best NHL seasons, with Kaprizov shattering once untouchable Wild scoring records and the 34-year-old Zuccarello outperforming his prime.
Next up for the dynamic duo?
To translate their talent to the Stanley Cup playoffs in a first-round matchup vs. St. Louis that begins Monday at Xcel Energy Center.
"To be honest, it's not about the fancy plays and all the really interesting things we do on the ice," Kaprizov said in Russian through an interpreter. "It's all about the little plays, the battles in the corner, the small things we do.
"If we can continue to do those things right and continue to win our battles and win our shifts and ultimately help the team win, that's what we need to continue to focus on."
Since Kaprizov arrived last year from his native Russia where he continued to play after the Wild drafted him in the fifth round in 2015, he's skated more with Zuccarello than anyone else on the team.
Nearly 70% of Kaprizov's ice time in the NHL has featured Zuccarello; they first appeared as linemates 14 games into last season (and two games after Zuccarello returned from offseason arm surgery), and almost immediately their connection was undeniable.
"Even from training camp, you could just tell Kirill liked Zuccy's style of play," the Wild's Marcus Foligno said. "Kirill is as creative as can be. Zuccy, too. That's one thing that is so special about those guys is just the creativity level. I think Kirill noticed that about Zuccy maybe more than some other guys, and [they] gravitated towards each other."
In their debut, they teamed up on two goals. Then another two the next time out. And two more after that.
The rest is history.
"Some [players] you click with more than others," Zuccarello said.
Kaprizov went on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's most exceptional rookie and landed a lucrative five-year, $45 million contract, and Zuccarello looked his sharpest with the Wild since signing a five-year, $30 million deal as a free agent in 2019.
But their encore was even better.
"Zuccarello is such a good all-around player: playmaker, great vision, smart player," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "And Kaprizov's a superstar. That's the bottom line."
Kaprizov became the Wild's first 100-point player and top-five scorer (fifth), setting franchise records in goals (47), assists (61), points (108) and multi-point games (32) for a season.
His six-game goal streak is tied for the longest in team history, and the left winger's 14 goals in March are the most a Wild player has totaled in a single month. Kaprizov, who turned 25 last Tuesday, is the first NHLer with more than 110 points through his first 100 games since Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07.
And since Nov. 18, when he emphatically turned the page on a ho-hum month-plus with his first career four-point game, Kaprizov had the second-most goals (44) and third-best points (97) in the league during its highest scoring season since 1995-96.
As for Zuccarello, his 79 points are 18 more than he had during his most productive season with the Rangers six years ago.
The 55 assists he racked up also eclipsed Pierre-Marc Bouchard's 14-year record of 50, and the right winger from Norway is the only Wild player ever to tally multiple points in six consecutive games. Before he missed the end of the regular season with an injury the Wild is optimistic won't keep him out of Game 1, Zuccarello was at a point-per-game pace for nearly two months and exceeded 500 career points.
Of the 35 goals Zuccarello has scored since Kaprizov joined the Wild, Kaprizov has assisted on 21 of them while Zuccarello has factored in 33 of Kaprizov's 74 career goals.
"Their vision, the plays they make, they read off each other so well," St. Louis captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's going to be a tough challenge. They're very good and a key to their team and their offense."
Their harmony, though, isn't the quintessential partnership between a passer and shooter.
Yes, Zuccarello looks to dish first but Kaprizov also has that instinct.
(See the commercial they filmed together where they keep shuffling a coffee cup back and forth between each other.)
What makes them unique, then, is their shared outlook on the ice — what Foligno dubbed a "sixth sense" of knowing where the other is.
"In tight spaces, they move the puck so quickly and so efficiently between each other they're hard to get a handle on," said former NHLer and ESPN analyst Ray Ferraro.
Take the sequence on Jan. 14 against Anaheim.
Kaprizov had the puck along the boards with two Ducks players nearby, and yet he delivered a no-look backhander between them right to Zuccarello's stick for a one-timer goal.
"It never gets old," said Ryan Hartman, who centers their line.
Some plays are hashed out ahead of time, but others don't need to be communicated.
That intuition comes in handy with the attention the two elicit from other teams' top defensive specialists, but the checking they receive doesn't seem to rattle them. Not only do they shrug it off, but occasionally they'll hit back.
"I'm not worried about those guys at all when it comes to the physical demands of the playoffs," Foligno said. "Those guys are gamers and big, game-time players. I think we're going to see their best come this playoffs."
Linemates and friends
Kaprizov and Zuccarello aren't postseason newbies, but they've never ascended that stage together as one of the most formidable pairs in the NHL on a team with intriguing potential.
They have a job to do, but they're not just colleagues.
They're friends, and that camaraderie also describes their alliance.
"I don't know if it's just Zuccy knew some Russian words," Foligno said. "They were two peas in a pod right from the get-go."
They rib each other, telling the other to work harder, and they hang out away from the rink. Zuccarello tends to lighten the mood with a joke, like he did on the bench that night vs. the Oilers when he "cured" Kaprizov's hands.
"There's so much pressure on a guy that comes in," Foligno said, referring to Kaprizov. "But Zuccy made it pretty easy for him."
And the two of them have made the Wild much more intimidating, a combination that helped legitimize the lofty ambitions the team is about to begin chasing.
"We completely complement each other," Kaprizov said. "We just need to continue doing that, playing our game, and continuing to jell and play really, really good hockey."