ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild have proven themselves to be a tough out. The Vegas Golden Knights could use some work on their finishing touch.
Kevin Fiala had a goal and an assist in the third period to break open a scoreless game, Cam Talbot had his second shutout of the series and the Wild again staved off elimination with a 3-0 victory over the Golden Knights on Wednesday night.
“We’ve been playing like this all year long. When it comes down to it, when we need a big stand or a big game or a big period, we just always seem to find a way,” Talbot said.
The first-round series moves back to Las Vegas for the decisive Game 7 on Friday night. The Colorado Avalanche, who tied the Golden Knights for the best regular-season record in the NHL, await after sweeping the St. Louis Blues.
“It’s an opportunity to come out in your home arena with all your fans excited and full of emotion,” right wing Reilly Smith said. “So it’s the stuff we dreamed about as kids.”
Ryan Hartman scored first and Nick Bjugstad tacked on the last goal in support of Talbot, who made 23 stops. He had 38 saves Monday night to help the Wild steal Game 5 while being outshot 40-14.
“I knew the chances were going to come,” Hartman said. “It was only a matter of time.”
Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 21 stops, gave up three goals for the second straight game after allowing only four scores over the first four games.
Fiala, the team’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, went without a point in the first five games until tallying two at the best possible time. The Swiss left wing zinged a slap shot on a power play from the circle that sneaked underneath Fleury’s pad.
The Golden Knights nearly tied it moments before that on Chandler Stephenson’s shot from behind the circle that Talbot never saw. Alex Tuch was in the crease, arguing he was being pushed by Matt Dumba, and the goal was waved off. Not even the challenge by Vegas coach Peter DeBoer worked this time, after two earlier goals in the series by Joel Eriksson Ek were overturned by video review.
“If that one stood, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I’d just be getting fined,” Talbot said.
After 44:21 of scoreless play, this tightly checked game finally opened up when the bounce off a blocked shot caught the Golden Knights flat-footed and Fiala found space for an odd-man rush with Hartman. Fiala set his partner up perfectly, and Hartman sent the puck above Fleury’s glove to ignite the 25% capacity crowd at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild will try to become the 30th team in NHL history to win a series after a 3-1 deficit. The most recent was the San Jose Sharks, then coached by DeBoer, to beat Vegas in 2019. Minnesota has done it twice, both in 2003.
The Golden Knights, after reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2018 in their inaugural season, are 2-8 in the playoffs since then in games with a chance to advance.
“We believe in our team. We have one game in our home rink to move on. It’s that simple,” captain Mark Stone said.
After a penalty-free first period, the intensity gradually increased. Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno checked Zach Whitecloud hard enough that one of the stanchions came loose, disconnecting the glass pane as the Vegas defenseman went hurtling through the suddenly open space.
“There’s some big, big men out there,” Wild coach Dean Evason said.
Dumba leveled Tuch with a sharp mid-ice shoulder, prompting Golden Knights teammate Alec Martinez to drop the gloves with Dumba in solidarity with Tuch. Four years ago, to protect Dumba in the expansion draft, the Wild traded Tuch to Vegas.
For the Wild, the middle period was bound to be as pivotal a timeframe as they’ve had all season.
Often a step behind the speedier Golden Knights, particularly with the longer shift change, the Wild were outshot a stunning 22-1 in the second period of their 3-2 win on Monday and 72-40 over the first five games of the series. Vegas had an 8-1 goals advantage, too. Minnesota was outscored 61-46 in middle frames during the regular season.
The Golden Knights, still missing star Max Pacioretty to an undisclosed injury, held defenseman Brayden McNabb out for the second straight game. He’s on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list. Ryan Reaves was also scratched, and Cody Glass made his postseason debut on the third line.
For the Wild, defenseman Carson Soucy missed his second straight game, with rookie Calen Addison again taking his place. Matt Boldy, their first-round draft pick in 2019, took part in warmups but was left out of the lineup.
This story will be updated throughout the game
PREGAME: Marc-Andre Fleury in net for Knights. Defenseman Brayden McNabb out tonight under NHL’s Covid-19 protocol.
FIRST PERIOD: KNIGHTS 0, WILD 0. Shots on goal: Wild 9, Knights 6.
SECOND PERIOD: KNIGHTS 0, WILD 0. Shots on goal: Wild 14, Knights 13.
THIRD PERIOD: Wild goal Ryan Hartman (2) (Wrist shot), Assists: Kevin Fiala (1) and Zach Parise (1). WILD 1, KNIGHTS 0.
Wild goal Kevin Fiala (1) (Wrist shot), Assists: Jared Spurgeon (1) and Mats Zuccarello (2). WILD 2, KNIGHTS 0.
Wild goal Nick Bjugstad (1) (Backhand shot), Assists: Nico Sturm (1) and Jared Spurgeon (2). WILD 3, KNIGHTS 0, FINAL. Shots on goal: Wild 24, Knights 23.
This is the pregame story
Vegas Golden Knights (40-14-2, second in the West Division during the regular season) vs. Minnesota Wild (35-16-5, third in the West Division during the regular season)
St. Paul, Minnesota; Wednesday, 6 p.m. PDT
LINE: Wild +115, Golden Knights -136; over/under is 5.5
NHL PLAYOFFS FIRST ROUND: Golden Knights lead series 3-2
BOTTOM LINE: The Vegas Golden Knights look to clinch the first round of the NHL Playoffs over the Minnesota Wild in game six. The teams meet Wednesday for the 14th time this season. The Wild won the last meeting 4-2.
The Wild are 35-16-5 against the rest of their division. Minnesota ranks eighth in the NHL averaging 3.2 goals per game, led by Kirill Kaprizov with 27.
The Golden Knights are 40-14-2 in division play. Vegas has scored 190 goals and is third in the league averaging 3.4 goals per game. Max Pacioretty leads the team with 24.
TOP PERFORMERS: Jordan Greenway leads the Wild with 26 assists and has 32 points this season. Kaprizov has four goals and four assists over the last 10 games for Minnesota.
Shea Theodore leads the Golden Knights with a plus-28 in 53 games this season. Reilly Smith has six goals and four assists over the last 10 games for Vegas.
LAST 10 GAMES: Wild: 4-5-1, averaging 2.1 goals , 3.4 assists, 2.9 penalties and 6.1 penalty minutes while giving up 3.2 goals per game with an .894 save percentage.
Golden Knights: 7-2-1, averaging 3.2 goals , 5.5 assists, 2.5 penalties and 5.5 penalty minutes while giving up 1.5 goals per game with a .938 save percentage.
INJURIES: Wild: Marcus Johansson: out (arm), Carson Soucy: day to day (upper-body).
Golden Knights: Peyton Krebs: out (upper body), Tomas Nosek: day to day (undisclosed), Max Pacioretty: day to day (undisclosed).