The Minnesota Wild entered the playoffs as the most popular upset pick in the First Round, in part due to their recent success against the Vegas Golden Knights.
They took a big first step toward pulling it off on Sunday with a 1-0 overtime win in Game 1 thanks to Joel Eriksson Ek‘s winner and a 42-save shutout from Cam Talbot.
This game is a great example as to how you do not need a lot of goals to produce an exciting and captivating hockey game. A good pace, a lot of scoring chances, and some sensational goaltending are far more important ingredients, and this one had plenty of all three.
Let’s focus on the goaltending. Both Talbot and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury put on a show all day.
Talbot was flawless in turning aside all 42 shots he faced from a relentless Vegas offense that stormed out of the gate and dominated play early. Vegas had 20 of the game’s first 25 shots but could not solve Talbot.
But for as good as Talbot was in the Minnesota net Fleury was at times even more impressive for Vegas. While the Golden Knights carried the play for long stretches and had more chances overall, Minnesota had several Grade-A chances (many of them belonging to Ryan Hartman) only to have Fleury shut them down with several highlight reel saves. For the first 60 minutes it was Fleury at his absolute best, with flashy gloves and the lightning quick reflexes that make him one of the league’s most entertaining goalies.
Every time Minnesota created a chance, Fleury was there.
It was not until overtime when Eriksson Ek finally beat him that the Wild were able to breakthrough on the scoreboard. And even then it wasn’t them beating him cleanly. The Wild were able to capitalize on a turnover from Alex Pietrangelo in his own zone, creating a chance for Eriksson Ek in the slot. His shot ended up beating Fleury after it deflected off Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round Schedule, TV Info]
With that, Minnesota strikes first in the series.
This was always going to be an intriguing matchup for a couple of reasons.
For starters, Minnesota is a really good team. The addition of Kirill Kaprizov has helped transform them into one of the most exciting teams in the league and has given them one of the most electrifying offenses in franchise history. Because they just so happened to get stuck in a division that has two of the three best teams (Colorado and Vegas) in the league they could only get a third-place finish in the division and had to open the playoffs on the road.
But they also ended up winning the season series against Vegas, taking five of the eight head-to-head meetings. Including Sunday’s game Minnesota is now 6-0-1 in the past seven games against the Golden Knights this season.
There are a couple of ways to look at it if you are Vegas.
You could take the optimistic approach and look at the fact you carried the play for most of the game and simply ran into a goalie. Repeat that performance in Game 2 and the rest of the series and you should be okay. Cam Talbot is good. But is he good enough to withstand that workload every game? Probably not. What goalie is?
But there is also the fact matchups matter in the playoffs, and right now Minnesota just seems to simply have the Golden Knights’ number. Even when they play about as well as they could possibly play.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.