You could almost see the entire Wild bench breathe a collective sigh of relief. Especially coach Dean Evason.
After endlessly answering questions about the woeful power play this season — it entered the night an abysmal 5 for 74 — the Wild finally got rewarded on Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Kirill Kaprizov helped break the dam on the power play, and the Wild rode that wave to a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
While there were other stars in the game — like Joel Eriksson Ek, who scored a couple of goals, and Kaapo Kahkonen, who quietly finished with 24 saves — the Wild finally scoring on the power play felt like the the story of the night.
“We asked them to stay as positive as they could and at some point something positive has to come,” Evason said. “Fortunately, it helped us here tonight.”
The goal from Kaprizov on the power play came after a clutch faceoff win by Nick Bjugstad and a knuckle puck by linemate Mats Zuccarello.
“It was nice,” Bjugstad said. “I was trying to dig deep on those faceoffs, trying to get possession so we’re not wasting time on a breakout, and those guys just kind of did the work.”
That energized the Wild, and while the Golden Knights somehow managed to make things interesting down the stretch, it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.
It was a very fast start for the Wild as Eriksson Ek made it 1-0 on the first shift of the game. He collected a loose puck after linemate Marcus Foligno forced a turnover, then wired a wrist shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Unfortunately for the Wild, the lead was short-lived as Zach Parise turned a puck over barely a minute later, and Dylan Coghlan tied the score at 1-1 with a snipe through traffic.
That score held into the second period, where both goaltenders took over as Kahkonen stood tall between the pipes, and Fleury was unflappable on the other end for the Golden Knights.
That set the stage for the third period, where Kaprizov got the ball rolling with a backhander on the power play to make it 2-1.
A few minutes later, Eriksson Ek added an insurance goal to make it 3-1, and Carson Soucy appeared to put the game out of reach with a goal to make it 4-1.
Think again. With the Wild in complete control, the officials sent Soucy to the penalty box, even though he did everything in his power to decline an invitation from Keegan Kolesar to drop the gloves.
“I tried to do whatever I could not take a penalty,” Soucy said. “It kind of changed momentum there.”
Indeed. Not long after that, Coghlan scored again for the Golden Knights to make it 4-2. He completed the hat trick a few minutes later to make it 4-3.
“That’s the frustrating part,” Evason said. “It influenced the hockey game 100 percent. We didn’t think that we should have been in that spot.”
In the waning seconds, former Wild prospect Alex Tuch had chance to tie the game for the Golden Knights with a wide-open net in front of him. He blew the opportunity the buzzer mercifully sounded for the Wild.
That win helped the Wild (15-8-1, 31 points) actually make up ground on the Golden Knights (16-6-1, 33 points) in the West Coast division.
“We obviously lost the two games over there,” Kahkonen said referencing how the Wild got swept by the Golden Knights last week. “If we lose a game against a team, we want to show them that we’re not an easy team to play against, and we are going to fight and push back. I think we did a great job of answering to that.”