ST. PAUL -- All season long, this version of the Wild has felt different.
Maybe it’s the presence of rookie winger Kirill Kaprizov and his ability to completely take over a game. Maybe it’s the calming demeanor of veteran goaltender Cam Talbot between the pipes. Maybe it’s the noticeable culture shift in the locker room.
In reality, it’s all of those things, and so much more, coupled with a no-nonsense approach from Wild coach Dean Evason behind the bench.
Yes, this version of the Wild is indeed different, and they proved it Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center with a 3-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. The Wild staved off elimination once again and forced a winner-take-all Game 7 on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
It might have been the most complete game the Wild have played all season on a night they absolutely had to have it. Ryan Hartman, Kevin Fiala and Nick Bjugstad scored the goals, and Talbot finished with 23 saves for his second shutout of the postseason.
It was a back-and-forth first period as both the Wild and Golden Knights played with the type of cautiousness to be expected in such an important game. Because of that, there weren’t many scoring chances from either side.
Perhaps the Golden Knights were simply waiting for the second period. They have dominated the middle frame throughout the series, and that’s putting it lightly. Entering Game 6, the Golden Knights had outscored the Wild 8-1 in the second period during the series, with a 72-40 advantage in shots on goal.
In that sense, the Wild deserve credit for tightening up in the second period on this particular night, limiting scoring chances in their own zone while carefully picking their spots on the other end.
With neither team finding the back of the net, the most notable thing to come out of the second period was a fight that never should’ve happened. The sequence started with Wild defenseman Matt Dumba crushing former Wild prospect Alex Tuch in open ice.
Though it was a clean hit, and Tuch immediately got up, Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez decided to drop the gloves anyway. In the end, Dumba and Martinez each were assessed major penalties for fighting. On his way to the penalty box, Dumba implored the 4,500 fans in attendance to get loud, and they happily obliged.
That set the stage for Hartman to play hero in the third period with tons of help from his linemates. Zach Parise started a rush with a heady play along the boards, Kevin Fiala raced into the zone with a full head of steam, and Hartman finished off a perfect feed to make it 1-0.
Not long after that, Chandler Stephenson appeared to tie the game at 1-1 for the Golden Knights. Upon further review, the officials ruled that Tuch was in the crease, thus wiping the goal of the board.
While it was a pretty clear case of goaltender interference, Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer decided to challenge the call. He lost the coach’s challenge, which put the Wild on the power play with a chance to add an insurance goal.
That’s exactly what Fiala did. Fiala, who hadn’t scored a goal in the first five games, unleashed a blistering wrist shot to make it 2-0. For good measure, Bjugstad added a pretty goal down the stretch to finalize the score at 3-0.
As the final seconds ticked away, the X erupted into a deafening roar. There’s a chance this was the last home game of the season for the Wild, though with the way this team has proven to be different it’s hard to bet against them at this point.