If you're a believer in first impressions, the first two periods of the Wild's season-opening 4-3 overtime win at Los Angeles on Thursday night might have left you thinking, "Well, at least we have hockey back.''
The Wild trailed the Kings by two goals through 40 minutes after frustratingly surrendering a goal with three seconds left in the first period following a needless icing and giving up two more goals in the second, both when the puck pinballed off Wild players before finding the back of the net. Rookie Kirill Kaprizov's backhand pass that set up Jonas Brodin's first-period goal was one of the few Minnesota highlights on the choppy Staples Center ice.
Then came closing time, when suddenly everything about the Wild looked a whole lot better. In the third period, the team won more puck battles, and Kaprizov's work down low created an opening for his pass to Victor Rask in the slot. Rask, bumped up to the top line in the third, fired a shot past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to trim the lead to 3-2 3:15 into the period.
More solid work came at 9:42 of the third, when Wild winger Marcus Foligno, rewarded this week with a three-year contract extension, hammered Olli Maatta to force a turnover and beat the defenseman to the front of the net, knotting the score 3-3 with a turnaround shot.
All night long, Kaprizov showed he'll use grit to get his scoring chances, and that was evident in overtime. When the Kings' Dustin Brown sent a nonchalant drop pass toward Anze Kopitar, Kaprizov pounced on the puck, sped into the L.A. zone and nudged a rolling puck past Quick for the winner.
If there was a downside to the exciting finish, it was the game's 9 p.m. start, something that fans will have to live with this season as the Wild plays entirely in the West Division. With Kaprizov's emerging talent on display, an extra cup or two of coffee after late-night Wild games might be worth it.