ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights trudged into the locker room at the first intermission with little to like, other than the time left in the game.
Turned out that time was all they needed.
Reilly Smith capped a three-goal second-period surge by the Golden Knights with the go-ahead score in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild to grab the lead Thursday night in this first-round playoff series.
“We’ve done it before, and usually it’s the same formula: no panic, regroup, stick with it,” coach Peter DeBoer said, “and everybody contributing.”
Mark Stone had two goals, Patrick Brown and William Karlsson also scored, Nick Holden had two assists and Marc-Andre Fleury picked up another postseason win for the Golden Knights, who went up 2-1 in this West Division matchup.
Game 4 is in Minnesota on Saturday night.
Ryan Hartman and Joel Eriksson Ek had the goals for the Wild, who have scored first in all three games but squandered the advantage they seized with the series-opening victory in Las Vegas.
Cam Talbot, who made 42 saves in his overtime shutout in Game 1, was way too busy in the net. The Golden Knights had a staggering 36-9 shots advantage after the first period. Karlsson and Stone tacked on the insurance goals down the stretch.
“We left Cam out to dry a little bit there, a lot of bit,” Hartman said. “We gave them everything. We had no possession, no work ethic, no battle. We got away from our game, and we let them dictate.”
Fleury, who also had an assist, only needed to make 14 saves. He stretched his career-best streak to 12 straight games with two or fewer goals allowed.
“Just have to get to the front of the net and be around it and get those rebounds,” Eriksson Ek said.
The Wild produced the strong start they promised, taking the lead just 2:16 into the game on one of the prettiest passes of the playoffs. Kirill Kaprizov began an attack from the left before finding a narrow lane to thread the puck through the slot for Hartman to knock it in.
Eriksson Ek, who was the only scorer in Game 1, wristed a loose puck past Fleury for a 2-0 lead and thought he put the Wild up by three a few minutes later when a slap shot by Kevin Fiala was kicked his way for another rebound goal. DeBoer challenged that the Wild were offside on the play, at the suggestion of video coach Dave Rogowski, and the replay review confirmed it.
“It’s better to be down 2-0 after 20 than after 58 minutes,” Stone said.
The crowd of about 4,500 — 25% of Xcel Energy Center’s capacity as coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased — gave the Wild a rousing sendoff at the first intermission with hardly a hunch about how sharp the game would turn after that.
“A lot of frustration when you come out in a playoff game like that,” said Smith, who also had an assist. “Everyone’s pretty upset about it, and the best thing you can do is try to learn from it and make your next shift your best.”
The Wild were outscored 61-46 in the second period during the regular season, and their midgame lull returned at the worst possible time.
Chandler Stephenson set up Stone for a wrist shot in the slot to make it 2-1, and then the bounces began to go their way. Holden sent the puck off the boards, where it took an angle toward the net that would make his geometry teacher proud and gave Brown the opportunity to backhand it past Talbot for the tie.
Both Holden and Brown were healthy scratches for the first two games. Brown hadn’t played since tearing a hamstring in early April.
“We don’t win without both of those guys in the lineup,” DeBoer said.
Less than two minutes later, Smith gave Vegas the lead when neither Talbot nor defenseman Jonas Brodin were able to knock the loose puck out of danger in time.
The Wild are one of four teams in the NHL with eight or more postseason appearances in the last nine years — only Pittsburgh has nine — but have played longer without winning a series than all but six other clubs in the league. This loss has made it a lot tougher to end that wait.
“Anytime you let something like that linger, it’s going to carry over into the next game,” Talbot said. “We don’t have the luxury of easing our way into it.”
SO MUCH FOR A DAY OFF
The Golden Knights were informed Wednesday they had nine positive tests for COVID-19, forcing them to delay their flight to Minnesota and scramble those affected into quarantine. Retesting confirmed all nine cases were false positives, and the NHL quickly cleared them for travel in announcing a lab error that also affected the St. Louis Blues, but the situation caused “unbelievable concern,” DeBoer said.
The Wild lost RW Marcus Johansson in the first period when he crashed midsection-first into the net. The crowd was mad about the no-call, but replays showed he fell after stepping on the puck, not tripping over Karlsson’s stick. Coach Dean Evason said the injury did “not look good.” … Brown drew in for Tomas Nosek, who was hurt in Game 2. Holden replaced Nicolas Hague on the blue line.
This post will be updated throughout the game
PREGAME: Marc-Andre Fleury in net for Knights. Cam Talbot for Wild. Max Pacioretty still out for Knights. Nick Holden and Patrick Brown added to lineup for Knights tonight. Series tied at 1-1.
FIRST PERIOD: Wild goal Ryan Hartman (1) , Assists: Kirill Kaprizov (1) and Jonas Brodin (2). WILD 1, KNIGHTS 0.
SECOND PERIOD: Knights goal Mark Stone (1) (Wrist shot), Assist: Chandler Stephenson (2). WILD 2, KNIGHTS 1.
THIRD PERIOD: Knights goal William Karlsson (1) (Snap shot). KNIGHTS 4, WILD 2.
Knights goal Mark Stone (2) (Wrist shot) KNIGHTS 5, WILD 2 FINAL. Shots on goal: Knights 40, Wild 16.
Knights goal Patrick Brown (1) (Backhand shot), Assists: Nick Holden and William Carrier
Knights goal Reilly Smith (Wrist shot), Assists: Nick Holden and William Karlsson. KNIGHTS 3, WILD 2.
This is the pre-game story
The Vegas Golden Knights stuck to a true rotation for their goaltenders down the stretch of the season, alternating Marc-Andre Fleury without much dropoff in performance to Robin Lehner.
Keeping the 36-year-old Fleury fresh has proven to be a winning strategy for coach Peter DeBoer, who has watched the three-time Stanley Cup champion stop 63 of 65 shots on goal for the Minnesota Wild over the first two games of this first round West Division series that’s tied at 1-1.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Minnesota (6:30 p.m. PDT, NBC Sports Network), after the Wild gained a split on the Las Vegas Strip.
“We’re taking this day to day,” DeBoer said Wednesday, declining to commit to keeping Fleury in the net. “He’s done it before and he’s playing at a really high level, so maybe. But who knows?”
What’s clear is how well Fleury, who recently moved into third place on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has played for a Golden Knights team that again has Stanley Cup aspirations. Fleury has won three of those, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he helped Vegas get to the finals in 2018 in its inaugural season.
Fleury, who posted a career-best 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 2021, has allowed two goals or fewer in 11 straight games since April 11 to match the longest such stretch of his stellar career.
“Our guys have been great at letting me see the puck, and when I don’t, most of the time they block it,” Fleury said. “I thought our defense has done a great job with that.”
The Golden Knights lost forward Tomas Nosek to an injury in Game 2 and have been without star Max Pacioretty for nearly three weeks. DeBoer said he’s making progress and “would still term him day to day.”
The Wild, who won 1-0 in Game 1 on an overtime goal by Joel Eriksson Ek, preached a stay-the-course mentality after losing 3-1 in Game 2. Leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov has been blanketed by the Golden Knights defense. Second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala has skated his way to several prime scoring chances but yet to see the puck go in.
“Just keep pushing, keep pushing, and I feel comfortable for the whole team that we are going to score goals,” Fiala said. “So I don’t think we have to change anything.”