The Wild might have solved its biggest problem on Thursday night. It might also have lost a playoff series.
It scored two goals and had another wiped out by an offsides call against Vegas' contortionist goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, yet took a pummeling in the second and third periods, blew a two-goal lead and fell 5-2 in Game 3. The Wild has lost two consecutive to give Vegas a 2-1 lead in the series.
Fleury — stoner of pucks, thwarter of ambitions, shredder of nerves, destroyer of dreams — once said this about playing goalie:
"Sometimes when I make a good save, I yell out, 'Woo-Hooo!' I'm not sure why, but it just feels good.''
In the first two games, the goalmouth must have sounded like a yodeling contest.
Kirill Kaprizov threw darts at him in Game 1, and Fleury became a dart board. Kevin Fiala attacked him like an internet troll in Game 2, and Fleury hit mute. After six-plus periods of this series, the Wild had yet to score a clean goal.
That changed quickly in Game 3. Kaprizov made one of his typically deft, beautiful, traffic-avoiding passes to Ryan Hartman, who buried the puck before Fleury could recover, making it 1-0 Wild 2:16 into the game.
About six minutes later, Marcus Foligno created chaos in front of the goal and Joel Eriksson Ek buried a loose puck. Again, Fleury had no chance.
With less than seven minutes left in the first period, Fiala put a hard shot off Fleury's leg, and the rebound went right to Eriksson Ek, who appeared to easily score again, but the goal was waved off because the Wild was found, on video, to be offside.
The Wild won Game 1 on Eriksson Ek's shot off a defender's skate. The Wild's only goal in Game 2 came on Matt Dumba's screened shot.
Give Fleury a chance to see an undeflected shot, and he snags, blocks, parries or smothers it. Entering Game 3 at the Xcel Energy Center, Fleury had been the best and most important player on the ice. On Thursday, the Wild hinted that Fleury's dominance could have been a short-term trend.
Through two games, Fleury had excelled at glove saves, and on desperate saves when he appeared to be out of position — as when Kaprizov almost beat him on a point-blank blocker-side shot, and Fleury flicked it away with his … what? Shoulder? Head? The butt end of his stick? It looked more like sleight of hand than a save.
So how do you solve a problem like Fleury?
Thursday night, the Wild demonstrated that the best way to score against him is to move the puck crisply enough that the shooter benefits from a temporarily empty net, or at least a portion of one.
This much seems certain — don't shoot to his glove side if you have any other option. He's too quick.
And whatever plans the Wild implements about Fleury must include the admonition that, in a playoff game against a quality team, the shooter has a microsecond to make a decision and cut loose a shot, knowing that the effective target area is about the size of a cocktail napkin.
Fleury has seen it all. On Thursday night, he went over 9,000 career playoff minutes.
A good goalie can get into your head, but the Wild also needs to rely on this perspective: As good as Fleury has been in this series, and over the course of his career, he's not invincible. He carried a career playoff record of 82-64 into Game 3. Entering Thursday, he was 2-6 at the Xcel Energy Center with a 3.46 goals-against average.
He's impressive, not impregnable.
Playoffs are about matchups. What should concern the Wild is that the veteran goalie could frustrate Kaprizov and Fiala, the two skaters who make this Wild team more dangerous than its predecessors.
With 1:36 remaining, the Wild's Jordan Greenway took a no-angle shot. Fleury appeared to pin the puck to his back with his glove.
Fleury didn't stand on his head on Thursday. He did beat the Wild with one hand behind his back.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com