Two of the best teams in the NHL squared off in a showdown on Saturday night at Excel Energy Centre, and what a game it was. Both the Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs looked to prove to the other side that they were the superior team. In the end, 60 minutes plus overtime wasn’t enough to solve this game, but finally, a shootout declared the Wild victorious for their sixth win in a row.
There was a lot to dissect in this game, which was easily one of the most exciting of the season. Both teams looked unstoppable for periods of time, but overall, it was a close game. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from this game.
Of the six goals scored in regulation, three of them could easily be credited to random puck luck. That’s what hockey is more than you might think, but it was apparent in this game.
The second goal of the game for the Wild was a point shot going well wide of the net, but it went straight off Justin Holl’s skate, past Jack Campbell and into the net. It was a play Campbell had no chance on, but the goal itself started a trend of weird plays.
Just under three minutes later, the puck looked to be heading into the corner after Auston Matthews blocked a shot from Joel Eriksson Ek. However, the puck ended up hitting off the ref, dropping to the ice right beside Marcus Foligno, and he fired it home to give the Wild a 3-0 lead. Both goals are one’s that Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe can’t really blame individual players on; it’s just the Wild capitalizing on funny bounces.
The Maple Leafs wouldn’t go without some luck of their own, though. Jason Spezza got the Leafs on the board with a shot well below the goal line, and the puck would bounce off Cam Talbot’s helmet at such an angle that it went straight into the net.
Three straight goals on three strange bounces were the story in the first half of this game. Both teams benefited from it at least once, the Wild twice in this case. Those aren’t goals you spend any time talking about after the game, but it was odd to see three happen in the same period.
Wild Surrender Big Lead
Coach Dean Evason needs to feel confident when his team is up 3-0 in any game, regardless of the opponent. Even without Mitch Marner in the lineup, the Leafs have offensive talents matched by very few in the league. However, the Wild are a great defensive team as well, but they didn’t show it in the second period.
After the goal by Jason Spezza made it a 3-1 game, momentum swung hard in favour of the Maple Leafs. They were flying all around the Minnesota Wild, causing Talbot to make some great saves.
The Wild then got into some power-play trouble, which is something you don’t want to do against the Leafs. They move the puck around much better on the power play than they have in recent years, and it was two power-play goals in the final three minutes of the second period, which allowed the Leafs to tie the game 3-3 heading into the second intermission.
Credit where credit is due, the Wild pushed back in the third period, but losing a 3-0 lead in under eight total minutes is not acceptable. If they had ended up losing the game, that collapse would have dominated the headlines.
Sometimes there is a build-up for a game between two of the league’s best teams, and it fails to deliver on that hype. Tonight, that was not the case, as both teams treated this like a playoff game.
Every player was finishing their checks and battling for every inch of ice. Some physicality in the first period led to a fight between Foligno and Wayne Simmonds, and players such as Nick Ritchie and Jordan Greenway showed their size at times in this game.
Neither team was shy to drive the net looking for a dirty goal. William Nylander almost beat Talbot on a rush to the net, but he couldn’t lift the puck over the pad on the far post. Marcus Foligno tried driving the net in the game’s final seconds to win it for Minnesota and ended up colliding with Campbell in what looked like a scary play. However, Campbell would be okay and stayed in the net for the remainder of the game.
The Wild clearly knew this was a big game, and they, and their fans, seemed ready to go from the opening face-off. Besides a poor final 10 minutes in the second period, the Wild proved that they could play with one of the league’s best.
Overall, the Wild must be thrilled with winning all five games in this homestand. They bested Matthews and the Maple Leafs on Saturday night and now will try to do the same on Tuesday against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.