After the star-studded Timberwolves game Thursday night thanks to the Super Bowl crowd — with courtside appearances from such names as Bill Belichick, Floyd Mayweather, Antonio Brown and Gucci Mane — the Wild was poised for more celebrity-spotting at Xcel Energy Center on Friday night.
“We’ve got to make sure we give them some entertainment, if that’s the case,” goaltender Devan Dubnyk said ahead of the game. “Make some real hockey fans.”
So, kind of awkward that in the end no reports of luminary sightings surfaced. Who knew professional hockey in 10-degree weather drew a very different demographic than the NBA? But that didn’t stop the Wild from putting on a show in a 5-2 defeat of the record-setting expansion franchise Vegas Golden Knights in front of 19,057 non-famous fans.
Vegas, which set the record for most expansion team victories with an overtime win in Winnipeg on Thursday, is still second in the league at 34-13-4. The Wild, which climbed back into the second wild card position at 28-18-5, plays Saturday night at Dallas, which leads the Wild by a point.
The Wild started very quickly, outshooting Vegas 30-13 throughout the first two periods. Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said his team “didn’t play well at all” and “looked like a tired team for the first time this year.” St. Cloud native and Gophers alumnus Nate Schmidt called his team “slow and sluggish” and even termed this his “worst game” as a Golden Knight.
But giving Vegas those hard feelings was all part of the Wild’s game plan.
“We’ve got some veteran guys on our team who understand back-to-backs and travel and how it works. So if you can jump on them and be aggressive, it can really help carry you the rest of the way,” center Eric Staal said. “We were in their face early, drew the power plays and then cashed in. Really took it to them, especially in those first two periods.”
Staal scored on the second of nearly back-to-back power plays about halfway through the first period. He one-timed a spot-on pass from defenseman Mike Reilly, who was back after six games as a healthy scratch. Then about five minutes later, forward Charlie Coyle netted a quick shot off a faceoff.
Winger Tyler Ennis scored another for the Wild early in the second period before former Wild forward Erik Haula took one back about five minutes later on Vegas’ first power play.
“I’m not going to say that it doesn’t feel good, that would be a lie, obviously,” Haula said. “But at the end of the day, you score a goal or whatever, you want to beat your old team. It’s not good enough. I’m not happy with losing the game and scoring a goal. It’s not satisfying whatsoever. I get one more shot at them this year, and hopefully we get them then.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored another power-play goal for the Wild at 16:08 of the second period. Schmidt tried to mount a comeback with a power-play score at 12:38 in the third. But when Vegas winger David Perron hooked Staal who had broken away toward an empty net, the referees awarded the Wild its final goal with less than two minutes to play.
In a stacked Western Conference where every game is a battle, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau called this victory “really big.”
“I think it’s going to go right down to the wire that you have to win,” Boudreau said. “You just have to keep winning and worry about yourself, and get mad when you read the papers or watch TV the night before when you don’t play.”