Wild clinch playoff spot, but lose some grip in the standings: ‘It stings a bit’
ST. PAUL, Minn. – When Matt Boldy stepped up to block an Alex Pietrangelo shot in the final minute Monday night, the sellout crowd rose to its feet and roared.
It could have been a fitting footnote to Boldy’s bonus-point (and 80-second turnover) performance, sealing an important win against the Western Conference’s top team.
But moments later, after a scramble around the net, Pavel Dorofeyev was left open in the slot and tied it with 35 seconds left. The Golden Knights put on the kind of six-on-five scoring that the Wild were known for last year and ended up winning 4-3 in a five-round shootout.
“It stings a little,” Boldy said.
This is especially true in the standings, as the loss makes it extremely difficult to win the conference, with Vegas now five points ahead with five games to go. It also allowed Dallas to tie Minnesota for first place (holding a tie for regulation wins), and the Cup champion Avalanche two points back with two games in hand.
But for the Wild, who clinched their 10th playoff berth in the last 11 years, how they played was more important. Two nights after lacking the energy and pop needed in a loss in Vegas, Minnesota had the kind of effort that could serve them well in the playoffs.
“We played a heck of a hockey game,” coach Dean Evason said. “The way we played tonight compared to the other night, we were very happy. With the way we played five-on-five, we were as good as we’ve ever been.
“A pretty good game – except for that stupid shootout.”
The Wild were better at five-on-five, with a 26-11 advantage in scoring chances (11-3 in high-danger chances), according to Natural Stat Trick (1.87-.81 in expected goals). Their power struggle, in a 1-for-14 funk, was capped by a John Klingberg goal. The penalty kill went 3-for-3, including a key shot with a one-goal lead with six minutes to go. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba had a dominant performance against the Golden Knights top line of Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault. Boldy scored his 13th goal in his last 12 games, reaching his maximum bonuses ($850,000) based on points, ice time and points per game. Filip Gustavsson made some timely saves, including a pair in the shootout.
“They’re a really good team, honestly,” Marchessault said of the Wild. “They’re just annoying to play against. They are not the type of team you want to face in the playoffs.”
Who the Wild face in the playoffs will be determined in the next five games (at Pittsburgh, vs. St. Louis, at Chicago, vs. Winnipeg and at Nashville). The Avalanche and Stars have easier schedules going forward, so Minnesota will need to finish strong to have any hope of winning the division (or, at least, having home ice in the first round).
This is where picking up just one point in their last two games against Vegas hurts, especially after a statement win against the Avalanche. It’s hard to tell a team with just two regulation losses in their last 23 games (16-2-5), but that’s how they perform in the playoffs where they’ll be judged.
The good news is that Kirill Kaprizov took a step closer to returning to Monday’s first skate since his injury (more below). The staff is talking about when deadline addition Gustav Nyquist might make his Wild debut, with the hope of at least a game or two in the regular season. And while Mason Shaw (torn ACL) is done for the year, Minnesota tried what was expected to be their fourth playoff line of Brandon Duhaime-Connor Dewar-Ryan Reaves. They had a 55.56 Corsi-For percentage in just under seven five-on-five minutes while also scoring a game-tying Duhaime goal in the second.
“That should be your fourth line in the playoffs,” Duhaime said. “You have to be pain, you have to be difficult. Sometimes, it’s the lines that can make or break it for you – the effort they bring. So we’re excited for the challenge.”
The Wild had to be encouraged by the way Kaprizov looked after going through a 30-minute skating session before Monday’s morning skate, his first on-ice practice with the staff since a lower-body injury in early March.
Kaprizov, working with skating coach Andy Ness, did a little bit of everything. He had some skating practice, working on his pace while also working on his hold and shot. There were a few drills of him receiving and passing, and another of him speed skating, darting around a bucket and shooting.
He looked, well, calm.
Evason joked that Kaprizov had been bugging the coaching staff for weeks to let him get back on the ice. But after a solo session over the weekend — “just one spin,” Evason said — how Kaprizov feels after Monday’s skate will determine whether he joins practice on Wednesday.
There’s still a chance Kaprizov plays in a game until the end of the regular season, but the team is fine if his return is Game 1 of the playoffs.
“I hope he’s ready to play sooner rather than later,” Evason said. “I know he’s hoping he’s ready to play sooner rather than later. Obviously, we want him back in our lineup. But we will do the right things and our doctors and trainers and he will also do the right things.”
Heartbreak for Shaw
The news that Mason Shaw is out for the year after tearing his ACL for the fourth time hit everyone in the Wild locker room hard.
“You feel terrible,” Marcus Foligno said.
“He doesn’t deserve any of this,” said good friend and linemate Connor Dewar.
“It’s terrible,” GM Bill Guerin said. “To do what he’s done with three of these surgeries is a minor miracle. Now he will have to do it a fourth time. But we believe in it. He will do it and he will do it.”
Shaw was hurt in a hard crash into the boards in Saturday’s loss at Las Vegas. Dewar, who is also Shaw’s roommate, said that while the mood around their Minneapolis apartment has been “somber” the past two days, the entire team expects him to play again. “He’s a fighter,” Dewar said.
“Billy (Guerin) asks young players all the time, ‘Would you do anything to play in the National Hockey League?’ Something?’” Evason said. “And Mason Shaw embodies that. He did anything and everything to play in the (NHL) and he will do it again.”
Shaw, 24, is a pending free agent. But even with the winger expected to be out eight to nine months, Guerin indicated the Wild plan to sign him anyway.
“That’s not going to be something he’s going to have to worry about,” Guerin told The Athletic. “We will find something. You don’t want to let guys like that go free.”
(Photo of Golden Knights left wing Pavel Dorofeyev scoring against Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson during the shootout: Matt Krohn / USA Today)