The Minnesota Wild need to solve Fleury—and fast

Kirill Kaprizov, left, and the Minnesota Wild have managed just four goals through three games of a first round Stanley Cup playoff series against Vegas(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Kirill Kaprizov, left, and the Minnesota Wild have managed just four goals through three games of a first round Stanley Cup playoff series against Vegas(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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The Minnesota Wild  played solid hockey through the first two games of their first-round playoff matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights. However, the same can’t be said for Game 3, where the Wild were dominated through the second and third periods, resulting in a 5-2 Vegas win and  a 2-1 series lead.

Despite having a wealth of grade-A scoring opportunities from top forwards in the first three games and solid defense in Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon, the Wild have been largely unsuccessful in finding a way to hammer home goals against a 36-year-old Marc Andre-Fleury.

While the Wild mustered just two goals over 140 minutes of play (7 periods) in the first two games, it seemed that things were turning around for them in Game 3 after taking a 2-0 lead in the first period.

The forwards seemed like they were clicking with Ryan Hartman and Joel Eriksson Ek getting the early goals. But that was it. The offense quickly fizzled in the second period and was never resurrected in the third.

It could be argued that Fleury was the sole reason why the Wild did not return to the Xcel Energy Center Thursday night with two victories under their belt but  Game 3 was a different beast. Vegas outshot Minnesota 22-5 in the second period—three of which were goals.

The Golden Knights looked like a very different team—a better team—outshooting Minnesota 40-16 .

Fleury Has Been Lights Out 

Fleury was absolute dynamite over the regular season, posting a career best of 1.98 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. And this stellar performance has not waned in postseason play.

Fleury has allowed just four goals in 81 shots through the first three games of the series. Not only has the veteran goaltender made saves, he’s made quality saves.

He  said performance, “Our guys have been great at letting me see the puck, and when I don’t, most of the time they block it … I thought our defense has done a great job with that.”

Though Fleury made some great stops in Game 3, the brunt of the game’s outcome came on the back of Vegas’ offense, which spent the final 60 minutes relentlessly pounding the Wild’s defense into submission.

It was as if Minnesota’s offense had left the building.

Pacioretty’s Return

Max Pacioretty was a game-time decision for Game 3, and didn’t end up playing. If there was a game that the Wild needed to win, that was it Though it’s uncertain when Pacioretty will return to the Vegas lineup, the Wild’s defensive core will have their hands full he is reunited with Mark Stone. —the two leading goal-scorers for the Golden Knights (24 and 21, respectively).

The Wild have managed to keep Stone to just two assists through three games, but this will likely change when Pacioretty makes his return.

There be a silver lining in Minnesota’s favor. Though Stone has registered 31 points in 30 postseason games, Stone’s lack of offensive production may be due to the Wild’s strong defense.

Or, it may be that he simply needs a playmaker alongside him before he’s able to make a breakthrough. Only time will tell.

The Bottom Line

Goals win games. Simple. It’s going to take more than an honest effort by the likes of Fiala and Kaprizov to get three more wins against a strong Vegas club. Cam Talbot has been able to keep the Wild in it, but offensive producers, such as Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarello, and Marcus Foligno—all of whom are raking in substantial minutes—will need to start producing.

Even the best defensive efforts will not be enough to win these upcoming games. The Wild need goals, and they need them now.

Just over 70% of teams that win Game 3 of a 1-1 series go on to win the four games needed to advance to the next round. The Wild are still very much in this, but the window of opportunity is closing.

Final Note

Zach Parise—once a staple of the Wild’s offensive core—was a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game. There was speculation that head coach Dean Evason wanted to see how the team responded in the Xcel Energy Center—without a change to the lineup—but after Thursday night’s effort, it may be time to plug him back in.

Parise is the Minnesota Wild’s all-time playoff points leader, with 34 points (14 G, 20A) in 40 games played.