MINNEAPOLIS - Five days ago, the Minnesota Wild was left for dead. A 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights at Xcel Energy Center, and the Wild was down 3-1 in their opening series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Wild hasn’t won a playoff series since 2015. They couldn’t get a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury, and the Golden Knights were bigger, faster and more physical. Fans had probably lost hope, but the team didn’t.
They guaranteed a Game 6 after getting a 4-2 win in Vegas in Game 4. Wednesday night, they played arguably their most complete game of the season in a 3-0 win to force Game 7 Friday night. One game with the season on the line for both teams. It’s what every athlete dreams of growing up.
"When you’re a kid playing road hockey, shooting on the net in your backyard or in front of your garage, you’re always talking about Game 7 game-winner. We’re all kids, right? We’re all kids playing a game, that’s the important part is you don’t get too bottled up with it. You go out there and have fun," Wild coach Dean Evason said Thursday.
In a game that became more physical and intense the later it got, the Wild scored three times in an 11-minute span in the third period to earn a trip back to Vegas for Game 7. The goals came from Ryan Hartman, Kevin Fiala and Nick Bjugstad. Cam Talbot made 23 saves for his second shutout of the series.
The Wild also survived a third period scare when Joel Eriksson Ek went hard into the post with his left leg, and had to be helped off the ice. It took a few minutes, but he returned to the bench and even got back on the ice.
Evason said he’s good to go for Game 7, a huge relief for the Wild. Eriksson Ek didn’t talk much about the play, and is focused on the Wild extending its season.
"I’m good. We won the game and just trying to refocus now. We have one more game to go in this series. Hopefully we keep playing like we did, and just getting better and better for each game," Eriksson Ek said.
After having all kinds of difficulty scoring against Fleury early in the series, the Wild now has six goals in the last two games. So have they figured him out?
"I don’t think that’s possible, he’s a world class goaltender. We’ve caught a couple of breaks, that’s it," Evason said. "We’re stressing the game things, get pucks to the net, get in his eyes, look for rebounds, hopefully catch a break and score some goals."
The good news for the Wild? They’re 3-0 in Game 7s. They last beat the Colorado Avalanche in 2014. It’ll also be the third time they’ve advanced to a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 in a series, and they’ve won the previous two.
They’ve scratched and clawed, overcame early frustration and a lack of scoring to earn a Game 7. One final game, one last chance to extend the season. Wo what’s the approach?
"You get your body, you get your mind in a good place and then when the puck is dropped you go compete your butt off. Simple as that," Evason said.
"This is what everyone was dreaming of when they were a kid, going into a Game 7 is going to be really fun. Tomorrow is a really important game, so we’re going to be ready for it," Eriksson Ek said.