LAS VEGAS – The culmination of the first-round series between the Wild and Golden Knights encapsulated what the battle between these two teams was built on: who could rise above the physical grind and score.
And while the Wild did that in spurts to rally from a 3-1 deficit and extend the action to a decisive finale, the team ultimately didn't have the manpower to persevere one more time, falling 6-2 on Friday to Vegas in front of 12,156 at T-Mobile Arena to get eliminated from the playoffs.
"We all felt like we could beat these guys," Ryan Suter. "Everyone else might think one thing, but the group of guys that we had we felt confident in ourselves. We're pretty disappointed it's ended the way it has."
The Wild has failed to make it past its first round of postseason games for a fifth straight time. As for the Golden Knights, they move on to face the Avalanche in Round 2. Their coach Pete DeBoer is 6-0 all-time in Game 7s.
"They took advantage of their key moments, and we didn't," Wild coach Dean Evason said. "Likely the difference in the game."
Vegas' Mattias Janmark scored a hat trick, but Max Pacioretty was the sparkplug. The Golden Knights' leading goal scorer in the regular season made his playoffs debut after not playing since May 1 due to an upper-body injury and wired in the game-winner during a three-goal second period that gave Vegas a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"It adds a different dynamic to them," Zach Parise said. "Just gives them that much more depth and for him to come right in and contribute and deliver, that was a big addition for them."
The climb to catch up was too steep for the Wild, which was shorthanded for almost the entire game. Nicolas Roy crunched Jonas Brodin's left side into the boards early in the first period and Brodin left the bench hunched over. He did not return, leaving the Wild with only five defensemen for most of the game.
"It was a huge loss for us," Evason said.
Not being at full strength was especially tough for a Wild lineup that was chasing the Golden Knights most of the night.
Vegas opened the scoring at 5:09 of the first period when Janmark slid the puck by goalie Cam Talbot's right pad. Parise tied the game at 16:49 with one of the slickest goals of the playoffs, swiping a deflected puck through his legs while his back faced the net.
But like the first, the Golden Knights pounced on the Wild early in the second and regained the lead at 2:05 on a point shot by Nicolas Hague.
After Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was pushed from behind by Ryan Reaves to fall face-first into the post, the Wild received a power play and took advantage with a one-timer from Kirill Kaprizov at 4:35 to even the score at 2.
But then Pacioretty stole the spotlight.
He was left all alone in the slot to bury a one-timer at 7:44, and then Zach Whitecloud capitalized on a rising shot at 13:38. Janmark tallied his second of the game at 12:36 of the third before completing the hat trick into an empty net at 16:53.
"We spent a lot of time in our D zone," Suter said, "and it's not a very good recipe for success when you're defending the whole time."
Talbot had 28 saves, and Fleury made 18 stops. The Wild power play went 1-for-2, while Vegas was 0-for-1.
Suter kept playing after he was dumped into the net, a penalty by Reaves that Suter thought could have been called a major but wasn't. Center Joel Eriksson Ek also returned after leaving the bench in the second. Evason confirmed Eriksson Ek aggravated an injury he sustained in Game 6.
"Ek is such a warrior," Evason said. "Gave absolutely everything he had. I can't imagine how busted up he is."
And although the Wild had bounced back throughout the season, including in these playoffs, the team didn't have another comeback in it.
"We got ourselves to a Game 7," Evason said. "We just didn't push through. We need to learn from this experience right now, and we will."