The Minnesota Wild met one of their hardest opponents this season in the Nashville Predators and it was an extremely physical game from start to finish with a combined 83 hits. The Wild started things with a goal on the power play halfway through the first period. The building was quiet for some time despite the hit level intensifying until the Predators scored to tie things up with three seconds left.
The Wild came out in the second period with the same level of intensity and scored early in the second to reclaim the lead. However, the Predators fought back again, as they tied it and took the lead a short time later. Things continued to stay heated with multiple skirmishes breaking out nearly every break in play. It was the Wild’s turn to fight back and they responded with a goal at the end of the second to tie things up at three, but that wasn’t all. They added one more with under a minute left to retake the lead 4-3.
The Wild carried the lead through the majority of the third period until the Predators scored with a little over five minutes left in the game to tie it up at four. It stayed that way through the rest of the regulation and forced overtime. There were many chances for both sides throughout the overtime but the Wild were able to prevail on a goal in the last few seconds.
Wild’s Eriksson Ek & Fiala Show Strength
For the second consecutive night, Joel Eriksson Ek came up with two big goals as well as an assist. Like Kevin Fiala, Eriksson Ek has found his scoring touch and is on fire just like he is. Those three points brought him up to 47 points on the season. Moving to Fiala, he got back on the scoring train after assisting on five in their last game. He assisted on Eriksson Ek’s second goal of the game and went on to score the go-ahead goal right after. On Eriksson Ek’s goal, Kirill Kaprizov made an amazing play on his knees to keep the puck in the zone and made the pass to Fiala.
Fiala is now second in Wild history for most points in a single season with 84, behind Kaprizov’s 103. They were also dominant on the power play for the second game in a row, as they scored two goals out of a possible seven chances. The downside to that was that they also let in two goals while shorthanded out of a possible five opportunities.
Wild’s Injuries Pile Up
Their injury list seemed to be fixing itself only for it to start growing again the last couple of games. To recap, they were already without Marcus Foligno due to COVID Protocols, and Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway due to injuries. They added Mats Zuccarello to that list following their win over the Seattle Kraken and now, they’ve added captain Jared Spurgeon as he left the game against the Predators with an upper-body injury.
There were several times throughout the game that players left the ice clearly in pain, but with how physical the game was, they were lucky to only lose one player. Of course, that player had to be Spurgeon, someone they rely on every night. However, thankfully for the Wild, they had other defensemen step up like Dmitry Kulikov and Jacob Middleton.
With Spurgeon hurt, we obviously saw one byproduct was Kulikov playing in OT. Evason said Bob Woods called Jake Middleton up at one point and Middleton turned around and said, “What? I’ve never played it.” Made for some comic relief in the presser. Middleton was a stud tonight— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 25, 2022
Early in the game, Middleton helped out goaltender Marc-André Fleury by breaking up a passing play down by the net, and later blocked a shot with his glove. Not only was he big defensively but he also helped score a goal by falling into the net accidentally, as Eriksson Ek tallied the second goal of the game to take the lead back. Kulikov went on to score the game-winner in overtime after having a strong defensive night as well with two blocked shots.
Wild’s Interesting Line Combinations
With nearly one forward out per line, adjustments had to be made. Especially on the GREEF line, with just Eriksson Ek left in the lineup. The top line had the addition of Nick Bjugstad in place of Zuccarello, while the second line stayed the same. Eriksson Ek was paired with Joseph Cramarossa and Connor Dewar, which left the final line to consist of Nicolas Deslauriers, Brandon Duhaime, and Tyson Jost.
Bjugstad on the top line made for an interesting combination. He and Zuccarello have quite different playing styles but this team continues to prove they can play with nearly any line combination. Of course, some of them have not worked out, but this one did. Bjugstad took some of the physicality away from Ryan Hartman and Kaprizov which allowed them to move more freely, but he was also able to keep up with their speed.
Related: Wild’s Scorers Set More Franchise Records in Win Over Kraken
Bjugstad scored the first goal of the game and as hard as it was to lose Zuccarello, having Bjugstad in his spot may work out for the better until he can come back. The same can be said about the third line, both Dewar and Cramarossa assisted on Eriksson Ek’s goal and worked hard to prove their worth throughout the game. In what could’ve been a very difficult game with all the injuries, the new players worked hard to steal the win.
Wild Head Home
Their win over the Predators was their final regular-season game on the road and they will now finish their last three games at home. They’ll take on the Arizona Coyotes who, like the Kraken, are a struggling team but have snuck-out wins over tough teams. The Coyotes nearly took down the St. Louis Blues last Saturday, Apr. 23 when they came back from three goals down to tie it but lost in overtime.
It could be either Cam Talbot or Fleury in net, as Fleury had his second straight start when he was in goal against the Predators. Their goaltender rotation may be almost over, especially with the postseason just around the corner. Whoever’s in the net, they’ll have to be on the lookout for Shayne Gostisbehere and Clayton Keller, the two top scorers against the Wild, but they also have the addition of Jack McBain, a forward the Wild recently traded at the deadline.
That leaves the forwards who will have to try to get past Karel Vejmelka, or “Veggie” as he’s known by the fans. If the Wild can win these last three games, they can seal up home-ice advantage as they have one more game left than the Blues. This last win against the Predators could be a huge motivator, as they not only came from behind at one point, but they also did it without several key players, and hopefully, they can continue to do just that as they head into this final week of the season.