The Minnesota Wild defeated the Ottawa Senators on Sunday (Dec. 18) at the Xcel Energy Center with a final of 4-2, extending their win streak to five. The club has won 11 of the past 14 contests, and now see themselves sitting just three points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second playoff spot in the Central Division.
The game looked to be almost out of reach after the Wild took a commanding 3-0 lead midway through the second period, but the Senators didn’t let up. Mark Kastelic got Ottawa on the board not even five minutes into the final frame. Then it was Claude Giroux who brought the Canadian club within just one with under two minutes to go in regulation, but it wasn’t quite enough as Frederick Gaudreau scored an empty-net goal with less than a minute to the go in the game, giving the Wild a 4-2 victory.
The Return of Ryan Hartman
Sunday’s matchup saw the return of Ryan Hartman to the Wild lineup after suffering a shoulder injury while dropping the gloves with Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Jarred Tinordi. There was a lot of uncertainty as to where Hartman would slot into the lineup, as head coach Dean Evason mentioned that it would “be silly” to pull Sam Steel from the first line after experiencing so much success.
According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, Ryan Hartman commented on the nature of his injury, stating: “It was a very unique and awkward play. He punched the top of my shoulder with my arm fully extended. A very preventable injury which is kind of why it’s so frustrating. I don’t think I’m going to be fighting the next couple of weeks.”
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Though it was good to see Hartman slotted back into the lineup, it was Kirill Kaprizov who stole the show, having been on the ice for three of the Wild’s four goals.
Kirill Continues to Thrill
Kaprizov has continued to thrill Wild fans this season, appearing to be almost unstoppable when playing with linemate Mats Zuccarello. Together, the duo has combined for 33 goals this season, and they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. Kaprizov potted the first goal of the contest Sunday night and provided a primary assist and secondary assist on the next two goals.
Aside from possibly being the only Wild player to walk into the Xcel Energy Center dressed as Santa’s elf, Sunday’s game saw Kaprizov reach new landmarks since starting his NHL career with the Wild. He is the 23rd player to collect 200 points in 167 games or less in NHL history (T-22nd fastest); the fifth fastest left wing in NHL history to reach 200 points, and the fastest player in Wild history to reach 200 points.
Gustavsson Has Been Lights Out
The Wild’s backup goaltender Filip Gustavsson has been lights out in his past six starts, putting up a 6-0-0 record since Nov. 19, and registering a .945 save percentage (SV%) over that period of time. He also leads the NHL with a 1.48 goals-against average (GAA) among goalies who have made at least five appearances.
Gustavsson’s performance didn’t wane on Sunday against the Senators, where he let in just two third-period goals to walk away with another mark in the win column. Minnesota has to feel good that their backup goaltender is a reliable asset, especially as the season progresses toward the postseason. If the Wild are going to continue their successful play, they’re going to need him to play at the very top of his game from now until mid-April.
The Wild are set to take on a struggling Anaheim Ducks club on Wednesday (Dec. 21). Though the Ducks are currently sitting with a 9-20-3 record at the moment, the Wild just squeaked out a victory against them on Dec. 3, with a final score of 5-4. The Wild will need to bring their A-game if they expect to walk out of the Honda Center with another win.