ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala narrowly missed out on scoring a goal for the umpteenth time in the playoffs earlier this week, and while coach Dean Evason has praised his young star for keeping a much cooler head this season, in that moment the 24-year-old winger from Switzerland had no interest in maintaining calm.
With the Wild on their way to a 3-1 deficit in their first-round series against Vegas, Fiala smashed his stick into smithereens, his frustration manifesting itself in the form of a temper tantrum on the ice. Asked after the Game 4 loss if he was indeed frustrated, Fiala responded quite simply: “What do you think?”
A fiery player himself back in the day, Wild general manager Bill Guerin appreciates that kind of passion from his players. But he also knows there is a very fine line between using it as motivation and getting completely consumed by it.
That might explain why Guerin took it upon himself to talk to the coaching staff about Fiala after that game. His message was simple and clear: “Just tell him that we’ll need him at some point.”
Two games later, the narrative has completely changed and Fiala’s intensity looks like money in the bank. Not only have the Wild battled back to force Game 7 at 8 p.m. Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Fiala finally has found the scoresheet. He had a goal and an assist in Game 6 on Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center to get the monkey off his back.
“Just great that it found the back of the net,” Fiala said of his goal. “It’s a great night for us, but Game 7 is waiting, so we’ve got to regroup and do the same thing.”
If Fiala can do the same thing in Game 7, the Wild should be in very good shape. They are especially dangerous when he’s firing on all cylinders, and the thing with Fiala, for better or worse, is his points usually come in bunches.
Seriously, he might be the streakiest player in the league in the way he can look like Wayne Gretzky reincarnated for a couple of weeks, then resemble a disinterested beer-league player for a prolonged stretch. In the final month and a half of the regular season, for example, Fiala caught fire with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 22 games. He finished the regular season with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 50 games.
“He’s an emotional guy,” Evason said. “He gets down on himself a little bit. But the best thing for us as a coaching staff, and for us as a team, is that Kevin recognizes now when he maybe hasn’t played his best. He’s very accountable to himself. He’s very accountable to his teammates. That allows him to have success.”
That’s been evident throughout the playoffs. Though he went five games without scoring, Fiala never got too down on himself. He kept a positive attitude during his interview sessions with reporters, promising he was on the right track, even if at times it felt like he was trying to convince himself of those words.
“It doesn’t have to be every game, right?” Evason said after Game 6. “You just have to stay the course and play right and maybe get the chance to make a difference. And he did tonight. He hasn’t changed anything. He’s played the same way. He just got rewarded tonight.”
Looking specifically at Fiala’s impact on Wednesday’s game, it’s easy to see him repeating that effort in Game 7. His assist was a thing of beauty as he sauced a perfect pass to Ryan Hartman on an odd-man rush. His goal was a blistering wrist shot from the point that added some insurance down the stretch.
“We played the right way the whole night,” Wild goaltender Cam Talbot said. “It was just a matter of time before a puck went in, and we ended up getting a few goals there. Give our guys a ton of credit. That was probably our most complete game of the series.”
That’s exactly what the Wild need in Game 7 against the Golden Knights. Especially from Fiala.
“Just a lot of confidence in our team,” Fiala said. “We won two games in a row. Now we’ve got to regroup. It all starts at zero. We’re going to have to realize that and have a great start. Anything can happen in Game 7, and we’ll be ready for it.”