EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Kevin Fiala is on the Canucks’ radar, and that’s fine by him.
“Obviously, it’s a new thing for me,” the Wild scoring leading said. “I kind of like it. It draws the guys to me. I can make some plays. Yeah, if they want to do that, they can keep doing it.”
With a series-high three goals, Fiala has reemerged as the offensive force he was before the season was stalled in March by the coronavirus pandemic.
But that hasn’t been enough for the Wild to shake off Vancouver, which evened the qualifying round best-of-five series 1-1 Tuesday night after hanging on for a 4-3 victory in a Game 2 that wasn’t close until a pair of goals from Fiala in the final minutes of play.
And if the Wild is to retake control in Game 3 Thursday afternoon at Rogers Place, the team will need a better attack from its entire lineup.
“Obviously, we want depth and we want everybody to contribute,” coach Dean Evason said Wednesday from the team’s hotel. “We want everybody to play the same way. If everybody plays the same way and plays the game the right way as far as how we played in Game 1, we fully expect everybody to chip in and help out in the offensive end of it.
“Certainly Kevin’s feeling it, and obviously he’s going to get special attention from them. So there’s no question we’re going to have to have other people step up.”
Despite outscoring the Canucks 6-4 so far, the Wild still has plenty of room to improve on offense.
Only two other players besides Fiala have scored and only one is a forward, Luke Kunin, who converted shorthanded in Game 2 to tie the score at 1. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon has the team’s other two goals.
And perhaps most concerning is the fact that none of these goals have come at 5-on-5.
Both of Fiala’s goals Tuesday came with goalie Alex Stalock pulled for a 6-on-5 look, and he and Spurgeon converted on the power play in Game 1 before Spurgeon dumped the puck into an empty net when Vancouver had a 6-on-5 advantage.
“What makes our team successful is being hard on the forecheck and controlling pucks in the offensive zone,” said center Eric Staal, who has four assists through two games. “When we did do that at certain spurts of the game, we had some Grade-A looks. I know at 2-1, I had one right in the slot that Kevin gave me. You get that in, it’s 2-2.
“On a consistent basis we needed to spend more time in the offensive zone and play to our strengths, forecheck hard, be aggressive on the forecheck and stripping pucks and then using our defense by getting movement in the offensive zone. We didn’t do that enough.”
Smarter dump-ins could help the Wild’s forecheck get going, since Evason felt the Canucks were in position to collect those pucks the Wild sprayed into the offensive zone, but staying out of the penalty box is important, too.
After putting Vancouver on the power play only once in Game 1, the Wild was much more undisciplined in the rematch — getting slammed with eight penalties. And although the team’s penalty killers did an admirable job snuffing out six of seven power plays, the one time the Canucks did capitalize, it was the decisive goal.
“There was a lot that were avoidable,” Evason said. “A lot were stick penalties where we were reaching from behind instead of moving our legs and checking with our legs and trippings and slashings. And those are very avoidable penalties.
“It’s not like we were running around punching guys in the face and what have you. But we can avoid some of those penalties obviously that we took.”
Time off the ice
Aside from showing up on the score sheet after a quiet debut, this is where Vancouver’s star players shined — baiting the Wild into taking penalties.
Elias Pettersson led the way, drawing three penalties including the slashing call against defenseman Brad Hunt that preceded Bo Horvat’s game-winning shot on the power play.
Pettersson was also the one to knock Ryan Hartman out of the game, as he punched Hartman to the ice after the two got tangled up along the boards.
Evason said Wednesday everybody was available, but the team didn’t practice ahead of a back-to-back for Games 3 and 4.
And as the penalties piled up and the Wild struggled to score in Game 2, Fiala became the face of the team’s exasperation by looking up to the rafters after goalie Jacob Markstrom gobbled up another shot and then getting into a shouting match with the Canucks bench.
“I got a little frustrated,” he said. “I gotta take that away from me. I just have to get focused on 60-minutes plus. Doesn’t matter what happens.”
Lots of ice time
When he is locked in, Fiala is tough to stop.
Case in point, his frenzied finish — a blistering shot that banked off the post before sailing in and out of the Vancouver net with 2 minutes, 29 seconds to go in the third period and then another too-hot-to-handle one-timer at 19:51.
That quick outburst by Fiala — all during a mammoth three-minute shift to close out the game — made the result look more competitive than it felt, but it also proved the Wild has the offensive chops to get pucks in the Canucks net.
The team just needs to finish.
“We’re getting opportunities,” Evason said. “We’re getting chances. We’re positive and the belief is that we continue to get those opportunities, we’re going to score goals.”