ST. PAUL -- Only 4,500 spectators have been allowed in Xcel Energy Center for the Wild’s home games in their first-round playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, and they were particularly loud during Minnesota’s 3-0 victory in Game 6 on Wednesday.
Whether it was after Ryan Hartman broke a scoreless tie by finishing a two-on-one with Kevin Fiala early in the third period, or Marcus Foligno throwing defenseman Zach Whitecloud through the glass in the second, the crowd sounded more like a full-house 18,000 than about one-fourth the size.
The crowd did go quiet once, however, when Joel Eriksson Ek crashed hard into a post on a rush after the Wild had taken a 2-0 lead mid-way through the third period. They know what the young center has meant to this team. He limped off the ice favoring his left knee but returned to finish off the game and is penciled into his usual spot between Foligno and Jordan Greenway for Friday night’s Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena.
“He’s all good,” coach Dean Evason said Thursday, May 27. “He came back, played. There’s no problem.”
As if to show proof of life, Eriksson Ek followed Evason for Thursday’s remote access and declared himself ready.
“I’m good,” he said. “I mean, we won the game.”
Eriksson Ek scored the winner in the Wild’s 1-0 overtime victory in Game 1, and scored once each in Games 3 and 4 at the X, although both were called back after replay review for offsides and goaltender interference, respectively.
“The guy’s a strong kid,” Foligno said. “We knew that he wanted to come back so we were happy that there was nothing serious.”
Foligno missed the last eight minutes of Monday’s 4-2 victory in Las Vegas and was a question mark for Wednesday’s game because of an undisclosed ailment.
“It was just something that I needed to take care of all day and yesterday so I was 100 percent and felt good,” he said. “Yeah, that was just something that had happened, just a little stinger. If you’re not feeling 100 percent, I don’t want to go out there at that time. Put someone else out there that’s 100 percent that can get the job done.”
Wednesday night’s game was a standoff for just over two periods, but the Wild held an advantage in what has been a physical, big-checking series.
In the second period, defenseman Matt Dumba blew up unsuspecting Vegas winger Alex Tuch in the neutral zone, inspiring defenseman Alec Martinez to start a fight with Dumba. After taking down Martinez, Dumba exhorted the home crowd with arms raised, shouting, “Let’s Go!” as he made his way to the box.
Later in the period, Foligno checked Zach Whitecloud so hard that the Vegas blue liner dislodged a glass panel in the Knights’ corner.
“A lot of different times where we’re not having that type of game, it’s tough to finish checks on the forecheck so we did a great job,” Foligno said. “Dumbs did a great job of stepping up. I mean, that’s just the pressure that we have to play with, the aggressiveness, the desperation, and Dumbs obviously firing up the crowd and firing us up, even though we didn’t score in that period, it just felt like the momentum was in our favor.
“So. that physicality is needed, just the wearing down of a team, and it’s been a battle all series. So, with those guys in or out, it doesn’t matter. You have to play that physical play.”
This series has featured the two best goalie performances in the postseason so far. Minnesota’s Cam Talbot leads all goalies with at least six starts with a .937 save percentage, and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury leads that group with a 1.66 goals-against average. Yes, each is second in the category they don’t lead, Talbot with a 2.01 GAA and Fleury with a .935 save percentage.