Wild coach Dean Evason gathered his team at center ice midway through Friday’s morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. His message was clear on the heels of a successful road trip in which the Wild finished 4-1-0.
“We had a good road trip. So what?” Evason said. “It’s behind us. We talked to the group this morning about the drop of the puck tonight. For whatever reason, the first game back after a road trip there seems to be a lull.”
That’s something Evason wanted to avoid, especially against the Los Angeles Kings, who entered the night even hotter than the Wild.
If the overall effort in Friday’s dominant 3-1 win was any indication, the Wild heard the message loud and clear. More specifically, rookie Kirill Kaprizov heard the message loud and clear.
As solid as the Wild were as a collective on this particular night, Kaprizov was once again the straw that stirs the drink. He singlehandedly got things rolling with his effort early in the game and that carried the Wild the rest of the way as they stretched their winning streak to five games.
It started in the first period as Kaprizov dominated play for about 10 minutes then broke through with an incredible individual effort to make it 1-0.
He started the sequence by winning a board battle against star defenseman Drew Doughty, then feathered the puck to Jonas Brodin. Though goaltender Jonathan Quick steered away an initial shot from the point, Kaprizov fired the rebound off the side of the net, then collected the loose puck and buried a wraparound goal.
It was another highlight-reel sequence from Kaprizov, the Calder Trophy frontrunner, who leads all NHL rookies with 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists).
That sparked something in the Wild, and they skated circles around the Kings for the rest of the first period. Nick Bjugstad stretched the lead to 2-0 after Quick misplayed a wonky bounce off the boards, and Joel Eriksson Ek made it 3-0 barely a minute later.
It was as dominant as the Wild have looked in a very long time, and the Kings breathed a collective sigh of relief when the buzzer mercifully saved them from the onslaught.
That big cushion was important for the Wild with goaltender Cam Talbot making his first start in nearly a month. It also helped that the Wild defended solidly in front of Talbot as the Kings finally started to gain their footing in the second period.
While there was some noticeable rust early on, Talbot found his groove as the game wore on, and he actually would’ve had a shutout had Jeff Carter not scored late in the third period to finalize the score at 3-1. That said, Talbot finished with 27 saves to earn the win.