LAS VEGAS – The celebration on the ice was exuberant. It ended with a boisterous group hug behind the Golden Knights net after Joel Eriksson Ek scored in overtime to finalize a 1-0 victory for the Wild in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.
And the hoopla must have spilled over into the locker room Sunday afternoon inside T-Mobile Arena considering the team was blasting music at decibels that coach Dean Evason said prevented him from hearing himself.
"Guys are excited, obviously," Evason said.
But scenes like that seem to be the exception and not the norm.
Since this series with Vegas started, the Wild has looked and sounded very businesslike, playing with a matter-of-fact flair that helped the team pluck home-ice advantage from the Golden Knights ahead of Game 2 on Tuesday.
"We liked how our group just stayed focused, didn't push any panic buttons, didn't blow zones, didn't try to push offense," Evason said. "We stayed with it. We got opportunities that didn't go in. We didn't get frustrated, and our group's done that all year."
The longer a game stays scoreless, the more the margin of error shrinks — especially in the playoffs where the stakes are steeper.
And yet the Wild didn't play like it was scared by the circumstances; while Vegas was juggling its lines, looking to spark its top unit, the Wild didn't make any personnel changes and kept relying on everyone.
"That's exactly the way we want to play," said goaltender Cam Talbot, who picked up his fifth career playoff shutout with 42 saves. "The longer it stays scoreless, I think it definitely favors us."
That composure was rewarded 3 minutes, 20 seconds into overtime, when Eriksson Ek scored to seal only the fourth Game 1 victory in a best-of-seven series in Wild history. But the Wild's poise probably wouldn't have flourished if the team didn't persevere through a shaky start.
As the first period progressed, Vegas became increasingly dangerous — controlling the puck and driving play toward Talbot's crease. If Talbot didn't make 19 saves in the period, the rest of the game might have followed a completely different script.
"We need to have a push earlier, so we don't get behind the 8-ball and rely on our goaltender to make multiple key saves to keep us in the ballgame," Evason said.
A turn in fortune
From the second period on, the Wild steadily traded chances with Vegas and frequently had quality looks but the Wild didn't stray from its structure to produce them.
Actually, the game- winning goal came off a back-to-basics sequence: after Marcus Foligno pressured the Vegas defense into an unsuccessful clearing attempt, Jordan Greenway scooped up the puck, headed for the forecheck and then sent a pass to the front of the net toward a wide-open Eriksson Ek.
His shot caromed off Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez's skate before sliding five-hole past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a fortunate bounce but a break that was the result of a diligent effort.
"We knew the way he was making saves that if we were to score it was going to be something like that, a tipped shot that trickles in," said center Ryan Hartman, who had five shots stopped by Fleury in Game 1. "The hard shots and the shots off the wing weren't going in [Sunday]. We hope we can get some more of those opportunities next game. We just have to try to bury more of our chances."
Getting back on the ice
Even in the afterglow of an overtime triumph, Wild players were mindful of the context — recognizing that there's more hockey to be played.
Their actions reinforced that, too. The players opted to practice Monday instead of staying off the ice.
"It's a long day if you don't do anything," winger Mats Zuccarello said. "Just to get out there, get your legs going, feel the puck a little bit and then get out of there. Gets the day going a little faster."
Still, the decision underscored the reality of the Wild's situation: The team is on a business trip.
"One game at a time," Evason said. "Our ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup and it's one at a time. We've done it all year. We did it yesterday. We did it today, and we're now ready for the drop of the puck tomorrow."