With seemingly everything going against the Wild as of late, they were bound to catch a break at some point.
Not only have they been unable to gain any traction with the league constantly postponing games, they entered a tough matchup with the Washington Capitals down nearly half of their lineup regulars due to injuries.
After taking so much from the Wild over the past month, the hockey gods mercifully decided to give something back on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
With the Wild trailing by a pair of goals midway through the game, and preparing to kill a penalty after Ryan Hartman got whistled for tripping, they got some incredible puck luck when the Capitals inadvertently fired a puck into their own net.
“We needed that goal at that time,” coach Dean Evason said. “We were reeling a little bit.”
As the puck trickled toward the empty net — remember, the Capitals were on a delayed penalty, they pulled goaltender Zach Fucale for an extra attacker — the crowd erupted into a deafening roar just as the puck crossed the goal line. All of a sudden the Wild were right back into the game heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
That proved to be exactly what the Wild needed as they forced overtime in the final minute of regulation, then prevailed with a dramatic 3-2 win in a shootout. Kevin Fiala converted in the shootout with a nonchalant flick before Freddy Gaudreau ended the game with a snipe.
“I think everyone in there did a helluva job,” Mats Zuccarello said. “Just a good win against a really good team.”
It was a very strong game for Kaapo Kahkonen, who finished with 29 saves in total, and kept the game scoreless in the first period with a terrific effort between the pipes
That set the stage for the second period where the Capitals went up 1-0 after a redirection from winger Connor McMichael in front.
While the Wild still had some life at that point, Kevin Fiala took a holding penalty, then a couple of tripping penalties to gift the Capitals a few chances on the power play. Naturally, the Capitals cashed in once with center Evgeny Kuznetsov unleashing a perfectly placed shot to make it 2-0.
The score could’ve been worse had Kahkonen not made a beautiful save to thwart center Lars Eller in close a few minutes later.
That kept the Wild in the game long enough for them to benefit from the Capitals own goal. The sequence featured the Capitals trying to set up some offense on a delayed power play, only to have winger Carl Hagelin fire the puck into his own net.
That helped the Wild cut the deficit 2-1 with Marcus Foligno getting credit for the goal since he was the last opposing player to touch the puck. Asked postgame about being awarded the goal, Foligno joked, “Yeah. That was a helluva snipe.”
“That was a lucky one for us to get back in the game like that,” Fiala added. “We appreciated that goal for sure.”
As hard as the Wild pushed in the third period, it looked like they might run out of gas down the stretch. Until a big shot from Mats Zuccarello tied the game at 2-2 with 34.7 seconds left.
“We were making plays and doing a pretty good job in our zone,” said Foligno, who screened the goaltender on Zuccarello’s goal. “It was just a matter of time.”
Neither team scored in overtime before the Wild ultimately came out on top in the shootout.
Now the Wild have roughly a week off with a game against the Anaheim Ducks coming up on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center. That might be enough time to get some players healthy and back into the lineup.
“We worked hard enough to make that break,” Evason said in reference to the Wild benefiting from the Capitals own goal. “I think our group battled. We have gone through some adversity and we have come through here. Now hopefully we get some bodies back?”