Even before Kirill Kaprizov single-handedly got the Wild back in the game Tuesday, he showed he was not going to be held back by the Blues.
It's too bad so few of his teammates followed suit in a disheartening 5-2 loss at Xcel Energy Center that allowed St. Louis to take a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series.
After Ryan O'Reilly put St. Louis ahead in the first period, Kaprizov slalomed into the left corner, where Blues players attempted to knock him off the puck. Wasn't happening. Kaprizov battled to hold possession despite being pushed into the boards. Then, out of nowhere, Kaprizov sent a no-look between-the-legs pass to Mats Zuccarello in the slot. Zuccarello's shot was blocked, but that moment told the Blues, the Wild and the 19,197 fans at Xcel Energy Center that Kid Kirill came to play Tuesday.
It was confirmed by the end of the first period, when the Wild's 1-0 deficit turned into a 2-1 lead after two power-play goals Kaprizov. The first came on a wrister from the left circle as Marcus Foligno screened Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington. The second came with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first, when it looked like the Wild was going to sail to a series lead.
He was so dominant Tuesday that he made the Wild's weakest link look strong. The two goals made the Wild 4-for-19 on the power play in the series.
"He's unbelievable, right?" Wild coach Dean Evason said. "It would be nice to have 20 of him.
"Goals aside, he just wants to win. He wills the team, you know, we just didn't have enough guys willing alongside him tonight."
Foligno brought it, delivering nine hits and said, "Game 6, desperation, you'll see the best of us."
But the best of the Wild wasn't on display Tuesday. Kevin Fiala had two assists but was scoreless again. Ryan Hartman also hasn't scored in the series; both players had more than 30 goals in the regular season.
Jon Merrill's cross-checking penalty in the first period led to St. Louis' first goal, and he was at fault on the first of three backbreaking goals by Vladimir Tarasenko in the third.
Yes, three. The Wild had contained Tarasenko for most of the series, but St. Louis coach Craig Berube put him on a line with fellow Russians Pavel Buchnevich and Ivan Barbashev and it worked. Now Tarasenko has heated up at the Wild's expense. Not good.
Back to Kaprizov, because the other frivolities were disgusting.
He took a hooking penalty in the second period to stop an assault on Fleury, should have drawn a penalty when Brayden Schenn left his feet to check him, blocked a shot, and drove the net near the end of the period and nearly scored a goal that would have brought the house down.
The. Man. Was. Everywhere.
There was one guy who scoured every inch of the ice on Tuesday in search of a win. He wore No. 97.
Kaprizov scored 27 goals and had 55 points in 51 games last season. While everyone wondered how much better he could be in his second NHL season at age 24, Kaprizov answered with 47 goals and 108 points in 81 games.
After scoring just three points in seven games against Vegas last year in the postseason, folks worried about his disappearing act. This postseason, he has seven goals — a club record for a seven-game series. He is dancing in the spotlight, which is what stars do.
The Wild wasted a signature performance by Kaprizov and now face elimination Thursday in St. Louis.
St. Louis was bounced in the first round in each of the last two playoffs, and the Blues could not afford to return to the Enterprise Center down 3-2.
They responded. The Wild was the first team to win consecutive games in the series and now is the first team to lose consecutive games in the series. The season is on the line.
Now the Wild must act in kind Thursday to get to a Game 7. They must make St. Louis' next game the hardest game it has played.
The best chance might be to clone Kirill.