Kirill Kaprizov keeps finding new ways to impress during his rookie season.
After he showcased how consistent he can be, scoring in five straight games in late April to help the Wild lock up a playoff berth, Kaprizov revealed another skill of his during the seven-game homestand the Wild wrapped up Saturday and that's how clutch he is.
"It just shows what kind of player he really is," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "He's on fire, and we have to keep him going."
Kaprizov delivered the game-winner Friday in overtime to push the Wild past the Ducks 4-3, the fifth time he's scored in the third period or beyond in the last five games.
He tied the score at 4 on April 29, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Blues, and had the equalizer Monday on the way to a 6-5 rally against the Golden Knights. Kaprizov scored twice in the third on Wednesday, pulling the Wild even and burying the go-ahead goal before the team fell 3-2 in overtime in the rematch with Vegas.
Then, on Friday, he added an overtime finish for his 11th goal in 11 games.
And where that late-game prowess could really shine is in the playoffs, where the action is constantly at a make-or-break intensity.
"The harder the game, the grittier he becomes and steps up in those situations," coach Dean Evason said. "Probably everybody in the league feels that they've played playoff type of hockey games already this season. So, it shouldn't not only set him up but set our group up to go forward."
Parise scratched again
The Wild made a switch in net from Friday, subbing Cam Talbot in for Kaapo Kahkonen, but the rest of the lineup stayed the same Saturday and Zach Parise was a healthy scratch for a second straight game.
"We have to make a decision," Evason said. "It's a tough call, obviously, but you have to make that decision. We've used so many people this year. We've seen so many different scenarios and obviously if you want to get to where you want to go, you're going to have to use a lot of bodies.
"So, we ask everybody to stay ready when called upon. We expect you to be ready physically, mentally to help us have success, and we don't anticipate anybody that's not in the lineup to not do that."
Parise was pointless in nine consecutive games before getting bumped from the lineup, the latest rough patch in a tumultuous season for the veteran winger.
He's been slotted lower in the lineup this year, taking up residence mostly on the fourth line. Parise has played infrequently on the power play, and his ice time and production have declined from previous seasons.
Also, after he was a healthy scratch in March for the first time in his Wild tenure, Parise was sidelined by the COVID protocols.
"I feel terrible for him," Suter said. "He works his butt off. It's just too bad that it has to be like this."
Evason said everybody is told the same way, one-on-one, when they're out of the lineup.
"It's not just your name's not up on the board so you're not playing," Evason explained. "You have a conversation. You open the communication line for the player to vent his displeasure or concerns or reasonings why. It's no different for any player that goes through it."
Change in protocols
The NHL has modified its COVID protocols for the playoffs, allowing vaccinated personnel on teams that have 85% of its traveling party vaccinated to gather without masks and social distancing, dine outdoors at restaurants and even golf as a group.
Other permissible activities include eating on team buses and flights, valeting vehicles and use of saunas and steam rooms.
These changes apply to only players and staff who are two weeks past their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Unvaccinated individuals must still abide by the previous protocols, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
The Wild has not yet reached the 85 percent threshold to implement these new rules.