The Minnesota Wild gave its largest crowd since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit plenty to cheer about in the opening minutes of a Game 3 matchup with Las Vegas on Thursday.
Ryan Hartman and Joel Erikkson Ek both scored in first 8 minutes, 30 second to give the Wild an early 2-0 lead to send the crowd of 4,500 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul into a frenzy.
That momentum did not continue, unfortunately. Vegas responded with four straight goals over the second and third periods to rally for the 5-2 win. By the end, the crowds cheers had turned toward jeers — many of which were directed at the referees for what they felt were questionable calls.
A stat flashed on screen during the second period of MSNBC’s coverage that noted that when teams split the first two games, the winner of the Game 3 go on to take the series 70.2% of the time.
Here are a few reasons why the Golden Knights have the advantage in the series and are in position to take complete control of it with a victory in Game 4 on Saturday.
The second period
The Golden Knights outshot the Wild 22-5 in the period and got goals from Mark Stone, Patrick Brown and Reilly Smith to take a 3-2 lead into the third.
While the Knights did not score on their one power play of the period, they ran the Wild defenders ragged over those two minutes. Vegas fired seven shots on net, the final resulting in a freeze by Talbot with four seconds left on the kill. It allowed the four Wild defenders – to finally get off the ice after being trapped in their own zone.
Meanwhile, Fleury breezed through the period. The Wild went more than eight minutes without a shot on net at one point and had little offensive pressure when they actually did have possession of the puck. That leads to the second reason.
The Wild’s offense
Or should it be the lack of it?
While the Golden Knights offense gradually got stronger as the game went on, Minnesota was just the opposite.
Despite the fast start, Minnesota had just seven shots in the opening period in which a second goal by Eriksson Ek , that would have given the Wild a 3-0 lead at the time, was wiped out by an offsides call.
After that, the Wild managed just nine more shots over the final two periods.
Minnesota managed just two goals over the opening two games in Vegas, one of which came in regulation. The Wild made no changes to their lineup for Game 3 but it definitely will be interesting to see if that remains the same for Game 4. One move will likely need to be made ifs Marcus Johansson can’t go. He was injured as he drove tot he Vegas net during the first period.
Where do the Wild go in response?
Zach Parise has been a healthy scratch through the first three games of the series. While he might not be the same offensive player he was in his prime, it feels like his presence on the ice might be beneficial at this time of the year.
Then there is Matt Boldy. The current Black Ace, or taxi squad member, who fans have been clamoring to see get a chance. Those people will only be more vocal over the next day or so.
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Also, who would have guessed that Kirill Kaprizov would have an assist through three games and more penalties (two) than points (one).
The first-ever captain for Vegas was a difference maker in the swing game.
Stone started the Golden Knights comeback with a goal just over eight and a half minutes into the second period. He added the final one into an empty net in the final minute of regulation. It gave him three points in the series.
The performance was not unexpected for the 29-year-old winger, who is one of the top two-way players in the league.
Stone entered Thursday night with 18 goals and 43 points in 56 career playoff games.
He helped give Vegas momentum in the series. The Wild will now have to try and take it back in Game 4.