If the Wild and the Golden Knights somehow meet in the first round, buckle up. That has the potential to be the best series of the playoffs.
The prospects of that happening took a minor hit Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Golden Knights. Alex Pietrangelo scored the game-winner with a one-timer a couple of minutes into the extra session.
Though the loss was tough to swallow in the moment, the Wild proved once again they can absolutely play with the Golden Knights. That has to count for something with the playoffs right around the corner.
“If we’d have won in regulation, we’re two points behind them there,” Ryan Hartman said. “That’s a game we wanted to win, and clearly they wanted to as well. It was a battle.”
Indeed. There was a playoff feel to the game itself and everyone on the ice felt it. Asked point blank whether he’d like to see the Golden Knights in the first round, Marcus Foligno responded, “Absolutely. We’d love to see these guys again.”
That intensity on this particular night stemmed from a parade to the penalty box in the first period as the Wild proved they weren’t going to be pushed around. There was already some spillover from a physical game on Monday night and things started to get ugly when Wild rookie star Kirill Kaprizov got checked into the boards from behind.
“There was a race to get to their guy that hit him from our group,” coach Dean Evason said. “There’s no question that we’re a team. We stick together.”
Not surprisingly, Foligno won that race and confronted Nicolas Hague for the hit.
“Honestly, it’s just protecting a star player,” Foligno said. “That’s all that was.”
Not that Kaprizov needed it. He can more than hold his own and proved that with a perfect form tackle after Zach Whitecloud got in his face.
In the end, Foligno and Kaprizov ended up in the penalty box for the Wild, and Hague and Whitecloud ended up in the penalty box for the Golden Knights.
That minor dust-up proved to be foreshadowing as Foligno and Hague dropped the gloves for a heavyweight bout later in the first period.
That’s as nasty as the game got as both the Wild and the Golden Knights tightened up in the second period. After a back-and-forth start to the frame, Chandler Stephenson helped the Golden Knights pull ahead 1-0 after a nice play by Mattias Janmark to pilfer the puck in the neutral zone.
That score held in the third period where, of course, the Wild mounted a comeback. It’s become part of their DNA over the past couple of weeks.
More specifically, Kaprizov continued the trend with a pair of goals. After an incredible month of April in which he scored 11 goals, Dolla Bill Kirill has picked up right where he left off in the month of May. He tied the game at 1-1 midway through the third period with a tap-in goal on the doorstep, then made it 2-1 a couple of minutes later with a spinning shot off the faceoff.
“He’s been unbelievable all year,” Foligno said. “Those guys find a way to get loose and hold on to pucks that extra second and find that scoring lane.”
While the Wild looked to be in control at that point, Mats Zuccarello got called for a ticky-tacky penalty down the stretch, and the Reilly Smith helped the Golden Knights pull even at 2-2 on the power play.
Asked about the call postgame, Foligno shook his head and responded, “Yeah. It was a joke.” At that point Cam Talbot hopped in, perhaps so Foligno didn’t say something that would get him in trouble.
“I’ll take Moose’s word for it there,” Talbot said. “It kind of deflated us a little bit. They get a lucky bounce off of (Matt Dumba) and they get a backdoor tap-in. We battled all game long to come back and that was just a lucky bounce.”
That set the stage for Pietrangelo to play hero with a rocket that found the back of the net.
“It was an incredible game,” Evason said. “It had everything in it. You got a regular season game that had that playoff feel.”
Maybe it was a preview of things to come.