Wild teammates rushed off the bench and to the right corner of the Vegas Golden Knights offensive zone on Sunday afternoon, mobbing Joel Eriksson Ek, who wore a smile from ear to ear and let out howls of joy.
"That's probably the most excitement you're gonna see out of him, right?'' Wild coach Dean Evason deadpanned about the 24-year-old even-keeled Swede. "Obviously, it was a big moment. He does everything for us.''
That now includes scoring a playoff winner in overtime.
Eriksson Ek beat Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for a goal 3:20 into overtime, giving the Wild a 1-0 victory in a tense opener of the West Division first-round playoff series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The most important goal of the center's career came after the Wild and Golden Knights saw Cam Talbot and Fleury wage an entertaining goalie duel for more than 60 minutes.
"This is the most fun time to play — playoffs,'' Eriksson Ek said. " … How big the games are, it's fun.''
The most fun for Eriksson Ek and linemates Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno came in overtime, just as a Wild power-play had ended.
After Vegas won a defensive zone faceoff, Alex Pietrangelo gathered the puck behind the net and immediately was under pressure from Foligno, who forced a weak pass up the boards. Greenway pounced on the puck and drove to the corner, losing an edge and sliding on his knees before passing to Foligno about five feet from the net. Foligno tried to take a shot, but the puck caromed to Erikson Ek in the slot. Eriksson Ek gathered it on his backhand, moved it to his forehand and fired the puck, which deflected off Alec Martinez's right foot and between the legs of Fleury for the winner.
"Greener and Moose [Foligno] did a great job of getting it back,'' Eriksson Ek said. "Playing with each other for a long time, you just get the sense of where the puck is going to end up and try to get that spot. The puck bounced out there, and I just tried to get it off as quick as possible.''
Eriksson Ek had a breakthrough regular season, increasing his goal total from eight last year to 19 in 2020-21. The responsible two-way pivot is making a name for himself. On Sunday, he also dished out five hits and blocked three shots.
"I find myself talking about the good things Ekker does a lot,'' Greenway said. "A lot of the things he does go unrecognized. But when you play on his line, it's very noticeable.''
In Eriksson Ek, Evason sees a player leading a line that's built for the playoffs.
"That entire line is your typical grinding, all-around defensively sound [group], and they have the ability to score,'' he said. "It's certainly nice for us to throw them over the boards whenever we need anything, really, in the hockey game.''
The reporter did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.