In chasing the irresistible Avalanche for the top spot in the West, the Golden Knights may also be fighting to avoid a first-round series with the Wild. The Golden Knights couldn’t eke out a win, but they did force a temporary tie with the Avalanche after the Wild won 3-2 via a shootout.
Every point might count, too, as the Wild clearly don’t look like an easy out. The Wild boast the defense and puck possession that made people wonder: “What if they got goaltending?” last season. Yet, beyond improved netminding, it’s the another hypothetical that makes Minnesota worth avoiding.
Fans have long wondered what Kirill Kaprizov could bring to a team low on truly dynamic scorers.
It turns out … yeah, he’s living up to the hype, and making Minny someone you might want to take maximum efforts to avoid.
The Wild make you work for it, and in Kaprizov, they have a game-breaker for the first time in ages. That was all on display as the Wild squeaked by a short-staffed Golden Knights team 3-2 via a shootout on Thursday.
Golden Knights battle for a point to go ahead of Avalanche, but Wild win
With Chandler Stephenson suspended, and salary cap challenges lingering, the Golden Knights faced obstacles beyond the wily Wild.
Vegas is feeling the salary cap squeeze: After playing with 17 skaters last night, the #VGK are going with 16 tonight (10F/6D). They recalled Dylan Coghlan on emergency exception, but lost Chandler Stephenson to suspension and Zach Whitecloud to injury.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 2, 2021
Credit the short-staffed Golden Knights with a full-bodied effort against the Wild, then.
You’d think that, with such roster shortages, that the Wild would grind the Golden Knights down. If they did that, it was only in subtle ways. Through three periods and overtime, the Golden Knights actually slightly out-shot the Wild at 37-36.
Ultimately, Kevin Fiala ended up being the only player to score in the ensuing shootout, earning Minnesota a valuable W.
Again, though, the Golden Knight pulling this off in closing this back-to-back set? That’s pretty impressive. Mind you, Vegas wanted the full two points, and received some power play time in OT. But grinding out a point in this situation is a testament to the Golden Knights resiliency.
Here’s how the race for the West Division title looks. The Wild are listed in there at third behind the Golden Knights and Avalanche because they’re comfortably ahead of anyone vying for fourth. OK, you know what, you get the Blues in distant fourth, too. You’ve been good(-ish?).
Updated top four in the West Division: Golden Knights, Avalanche tied; Wild firmly in third
Avalanche: 23-8-4, 50 points in 35 games played, 20 regulation wins, 23 regulation/overtime wins
Golden Knights: 24-9-2, 50 points in 35 GP, 18 RW, 24 ROW
Wild: 22-11-2, 46 points in 35 GP, 17 RW, 21 ROW
Blues: 16-13-6, 38 points in 35 GP, 11 RW, 14 ROW
Indeed, the Golden Knights would’ve been alone (briefly) in first at 51 points if they won in overtime or a shootout. The Wild would still be in a good place. But Vegas got a key charity point, and maybe the Wild have at outside shot of even pushing the Avalanche and/or Golden Knights for seeding.
Either way, that top seed? Probably a big deal in the West.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.