MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Wild is starting a new era in the 2021-22 season.
Gone are veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and the new faces of the franchise are Kirill Kaprizov, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and even Marcus Foligno. So far, so good. The Wild hosted the Winnipeg Jets with a full house at Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night, and came out with a thrilling 6-5 win in overtime.
It's their first 3-0 start since 2015. Here are takeaways from the game, and from a hot start.
JOEL ERIKSSON EK’S BIG NIGHT
The Wild signed Joel Eriksson Ek to an eight-year, $42 million extension back in July, and he showed why on Tuesday he can be a top line center. Eriksson Ek scored a hat trick Tuesday, including the tying goal with a minute to play in regulation and the game-winner in overtime on perfect feeds from Kaprizov and Fiala. It was one piece of a huge night for the first line of Eriksson Ek, Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, which finished with a combined 10 points. Kaprizov had three assists, Zuccarello had two goals and two assists and Eriksson Ek had his night to remember. He was doused with water in the postgame celebration.
CAM TALBOT COMES UP HUGE IN OVERTIME
Cam Talbot is probably frustrated that he made 25 saves on 30 shots Tuesday night, but when the game was on the line late in regulation and in overtime, he made huge stops to keep the game alive. Talbot made at least two sprawling glove saves in overtime, setting up Eriksson Ek’s game winner. When you’re a goalie and you’ve had a tough night, you have to have a short memory when you’re scoring goals to stay in the game. When it mattered the most, Talbot made the key saves.
WILD CHALLENGE KEEPS GAME ALIVE
Winnipeg appeared to put the game out of reach with a little over a minute to play, scoring an empty net goal to take a 6-4 lead. Wild fans started heading for the exits, until they stopped. The Wild challenged the goal, arguing the Jets were offside. As it turns out, they were right. The goal was disallowed after a Jets’ player was just across the blue line before the puck entered the zone. The Wild had nothing to lose with the challenge, there was no reason to keep it. Offside, no goal and Eriksson Ek scored the tying goal seconds later. The fans that hadn’t left the arena completely were suddenly back in their seats for a crazy finish.
MARCUS FOLIGNO PROVIDING PHYSICAL SPARK
Marcus Foligno and Matt Dumba were named alternate captains during training camp, and for good reason. Foligno is quickly becoming one of the Wild’s emotional leaders. In the season-opener at the Anaheim Ducks, Foligno spent a lot of the night in the penalty box before scoring the game-winning goal with eight seconds to play in regulation. Tuesday, he ignited the team and the crowd after getting into a fight with Brendon Dillon, which started with a Superman-style jump punch. The game was tied 2-2 at the time. Foligno later scored a power-play goal at 15:02 of the third period to start the Wild’s comeback.
PACKED HOUSE RETURNS TO XCEL ENERGY CENTER
In 2020, we did what we could to get sports played through the COVID-19 pandemic. Tuesday night, more than 18,000 fans returned to Xcel Energy Center to watch a hockey game for the first time in more than 600 days. It was easily the largest crowd in the State of Hockey since before the pandemic.
The Wild was able to have up to 5,000 fans last year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it’s simply not the same energy that’s created by a packed house. Those that stayed for the finish had plenty to celebrate.
It’s just one game, and the Wild gets two more against the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators Saturday and Sunday before hitting the road for three games to end October.