EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Penalty trouble, an unsuccessful power play and chasing the game helped the Wild gain the early advantage in its qualifying-round showdown with the Canucks.
That’s also why team lost its edge Tuesday, as Vancouver rebounded for a 4-3 victory at Rogers Place in Game 2 to even the best-of-five series 1-1.
A pivotal Game 3 that will push someone to the brink of elimination is Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m..
“We were a step behind tonight,” coach Dean Evason said. “We didn’t have that same emotional charge that we seem to have, and we’ll give them a lot of credit. They did. They did from the get-go.”
The Wild mostly avoided the penalty box, capitalized on the power play and set a physical, up-tempo tone en route to a near spotless 3-0 victory in Game 1.
But the roles reversed in the rematch, and it was the Canucks who used those factors to wipe the slate clean.
Vancouver went on the power play seven times, scoring just once, but that lone conversion was the game-winning goal – a deflection by captain Bo Horvat 6 minutes, 22 seconds into the third period that, at the time, busted open the game at 4-1.
Kevin Fiala scored twice in garbage time, at 17:31 and 19:51 while goalie Alex Stalock was pulled for the 6-on-5 setup, but the response was too late. Fiala now has a series-high three goals.
“Way too many penalties by us, and our power play wasn’t very good,” Evason said. “They did a real good job, but clearly we have to stay out of the penalty box. On their power play, they had a lot of really good touches tonight, a lot of zone time. Took a lot out of our group.”
The script flip on special teams, however, wasn’t the only change from Game 1.
Vancouver’s top scorers, who were ghost-like Sunday, led the team’s rebuttal – with a retooled top line that included Burnsville native Brock Boeser combining for two goals and four points.
And the second line featuring Horvat was also impactful, contributing the other two tallies.
Goalie Jacob Markstrom ended up with 32 saves to record his first career playoff victory, while Stalock turned aside 24. The Wild also finished the game without Ryan Hartman, who left late in the third after getting tangled up with and then punched to the ice by Elias Pettersson. Evason didn’t have an update on Hartman’s status.
“Top to bottom, they played a better game,” Zach Parise said. “They made some nice plays to score.”
Unlike Sunday’s opener when the Wild had control early, the team was in chase mode from the start.
Only 24 seconds into the first period, Tanner Pearson connected on the Canucks’ first shot – pouncing on a carom off the glass that sent the puck to the middle.
It was the fastest goal given up by the Wild in the team’s postseason history, eclipsing the 26-second tally from Patrick Sharp (Dallas) on April 18, 2016.
“You get a terrible bounce off the boards and comes right into the slot,” Evason said. “But that happens.”
Three straight Wild penalties later in the first gave the Canucks a steady look at Stalock, but the Wild’s penalty killers were up for the challenge.
And they were rewarded for their efforts when Luke Kunin capitalized shorthanded at 17:16 – a shot he wired by Markstrom after accepting an up-ice feed from Parise.
The goal was Kunin’s first career playoff marker, and he became the seventh player in team history to record a shorthanded postseason goal; Parise was the last to do so April 26, 2015, vs. St. Louis.
Kunin is also the 11th player to score his first career regular season and playoff goal shorthanded.
“Just tried to get a quick one on net,” Kunin said. “Luckily it found the back.”
But the Wild couldn’t build on that momentum in the second.
Instead, the Canucks regained the lead.
Soon after surviving a Wild power play, J.T. Miller toe-dragged around a sprawled Matt Dumba off the rush and flung the puck behind Stalock at 3:01.
The Wild continued to generate pressure in Vancouver’s end, with Fiala finding a wide-open Eric Staal in front for one of the game’s best chances, but Markstrom fended off the shot.
Just a few minutes later, a Pettersson heave at the net kicked out to Boeser at the back post for the tap-in at 8:42 that counted as Boeser’s first career playoff goal.
The uptick in offense from Vancouver came after head coach Travis Green shuffled the team’s lineup.
Not only was Boeser promoted to the top line next to Pettersson and Miller, but the Canucks also subbed in veteran Loui Eriksson and Jake Virtanen (who had 18 goals in the regular season).
These changes worked, with Vancouver’s top-six much more engaged and dangerous than the group was in Game 1, but the Wild also gave them more time to find a groove with so much face time on the power play.
And by their sixth power play, the Canucks finally made the Wild pay – with Horvat and Miller both polishing off two-point efforts on the decisive goal.
“They are calling it by the book, which is fine,” Parise said of the officials. “We just have to understand that.”
As for the Wild’s power play, it was silenced by the Canucks after going 2-for-4 on Sunday. The team blanked on nine shots during six opportunities, an uneven special-teams showing that highlighted the disparity between the two teams and underscored why a best-of-five series is now a best-of-three.
“I just don’t think we were committed to getting pucks to the net, and we were just too perimeter,” Evason said. “We’ve got to get pucks to the net and start our power plays like that. Obviously, our PP the other night, we shot pucks and good things are gonna happen. And we didn’t do enough of that.”