The Minnesota Wild fell to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the series on Friday night. After dropping Games 2, 3, and 4, the Wild did the unthinkable by winning the next two games to force a Game 7. They went into Friday with an unbeaten 3-0 record in franchise history in Game 7s, but that no longer exists after the crushing 6-2 defeat to end the season.
The Wild were sent home, and the Knights have a second-round matchup against the Colorado Avalanche. It was a different year, same results, but there was a different feel to the first-round exit. Heartbreak, yes, but the bright future ahead helps alleviate the pain as this team will be very dangerous very soon, as early as next season.
It was still a disappointing ending to a season where the Wild heavily overperformed expectations. They proved they are a good team, but not a great team just yet. They got good goaltending from Cam Talbot, witnessed the breakout of Joel Eriksson Ek, got a Calder-winning season from Kirill Kaprizov, saw positive strides from Jordan Greenway, and another strong season by Kevin Fiala. This all goes without mentioning the restoration of Mats Zuccarello and strong play from the depth led by Marcus Foligno and Nico Sturm.
The Wild have a bright future ahead, which made this ending less painful in comparison to the past ones when the team was trapped in mediocrity. They witnessed a star in Kaprizov, along with strong seasons from their youth, including Fiala, Eriksson Ek, Greenway, and Sturm.
Matt Boldy, Marco Rossi, and Calen Addison are all expected to be in the NHL full-time next season, which will completely transform the Wild’s appearance. For the first time in recent history, the team will be composed of a good amount of young players. The bright future will start next season, where the team will not just be more exciting but more lethal up-front with more high-end talent, speed, and finesse.
Next season will come with more lofty expectations and the hope that the Wild can build on to what they accomplished this season. Considering the pending unrestricted free agents that came in via trade, it is quite impressive what this team was able to do without any chemistry being disrupted and affected. There is no doubt that this offseason will be the most active offseason for the Wild in recent history with some expected roster turnover, prospects making the leap to the NHL, trades that are likely to happen, and the Seattle Expansion Draft that will remove a good player from the team.
Analytics Breakdown of the Series
The Golden Knights had the edge in everything, as shown above. Not only did they outshoot the Wild, but they had a considerable margin in shot attempts (Corsi). This isn’t surprising by any means, as Corsi can be a good indicator of possession, and the Golden Knights were able to exploit the Wild with strong possession and transition.
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Expected goals is a good predictor of future scoring and can be explained here. In terms of expected goals, the Golden Knights had a higher share, 54 to 46 — an 8 percent advantage. The Golden Knights also had a 20-13 advantage in goals, giving them a 22 percent edge. This all came with a larger share of scoring chances and high-danger chances. Surprisingly, the final three games — including the two Wild victories — came with a huge advantage for the Golden Knights in scoring chances and high danger chances.
This series had one common theme, which was very strong goaltending that came from both goaltenders. Talbot finished the series saving 1.78 goals above expected, a .923 save percentage, and two shutouts. On the other side, Fleury finished the series saving 2.82 goals above expected, a .931 save percentage, and one shutout. Both goalies stole their team a game and were strong throughout the entire series.
The Wild fought hard, but they came up short against a talented Golden Knights squad that finished with the most wins in the NHL this season. They had a great season that surprised a lot of people, and that shouldn’t be ignored. A busy offseason with some key changes will change the appearance of the team and will make them incredibly dangerous going into next season.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.