The Minnesota Wild entered the Xcel Energy Center for their third game of a four-game homestand to battle a struggling Chicago Blackhawks club. The Wild were coming off a three-game win streak, defeating the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Detroit Red Wings in that time. Though the club was off to a sluggish start at the beginning of the season, Friday night’s 4-1 victory over Chicago now has Minnesota firmly seated in the third playoff position in the Central Division.
It’s safe to say that Minnesota was in the driver’s seat for all three periods, but this doesn’t mean that the club didn’t have some issues that need to be addressed. The club took five penalties, one of which resulted in Chicago’s only goal of the night. On the other hand, Chicago’s Petr Mrázek did all he could to keep his club in it, making save after save, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough.
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However, it’s hard to take away from a club that shined up and down the ice. Minnesota’s top line, consisting of Mats Zuccarello, Kirill Kaprizov, and Sam Steel were on the ice for all four of the club’s goals tonight. Consequently, they were the three stars of the game.
Mats Zuccarello shined in Friday night’s contest, notching his second career hat trick and the Wild’s 35th hat trick in team history. Zucarello and Kirill Kaprizov have been one of the highest-producing duos in the league this year, and it should come as no surprise that they were on the ice for all four of Minnesota’s goals.
It’s important to note that Zuccarello is 35 years old and he still seems to be playing at the top of his game. It’s common to see a player’s performance begin to wane in the autumn of their career, but Zuccarello has shown no sign of slowing down. It certainly doesn’t hurt when you have Kaprizov, a franchise player, dishing you the puck virtually every shift.
Flower Continues to Bloom
Friday night’s game was also an important one for Marc Andre-Fleury, who put up his 531st career victory, placing him just 20 wins shy of Patrick Roy for the all-time wins record. But Fleury also played an outstanding game, blocking 29 of 30 shots and shutting down four of Chicago’s five power plays.
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Though Fleury had a worrying start to the season, he has turned up his game as the season has progressed. The best offense is often ignited by good defense, and Fleury has managed to keep the Wild in virtually every contest since his rough patch. Wild fans have to hope that he continues this level of play, as the grind toward the postseason is only going to get more challenging.
During the first intermission, head coach Dean Evason mentioned that his team was playing too fancy and not executing on the opportunities they were given. It’s not certain, but he was likely talking about Zuccarello, Kaprizov, and Steel. Evason suggested that the team play with more grit, and the club did just that during the second period.
Kaprizov’s goal in the second period was not a pretty one, to say the least. The play found Mrazek down on the ice, and Kaprizov jabbed the puck through traffic to notch the Wild’s second goal of the game. The value of Kaprizov’s effort can’t go understated, as it shows that he’s not only a flashy player that can snipe and sauce passes, but he’s also willing to take a beating in front of the net.
Wild Road Ahead
The Wild are set to take on a hungry Ottawa Senators club on Sunday, who are currently sitting well out of a playoff position but will certainly be looking to earn back some much-needed points in a difficult Atlantic Division. Then it’s off to the West Coast to take on the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, two clubs struggling to win games this season. Moving forward, every game is an important one for the Wild, who will be in a hard-fought battle for a postseason position until the very end.