After two skin-tight games to begin their First Round series, the Golden Knights and Wild have opened things up a bit, including in Game 4.
Theoretically, that change of pace would suit Vegas more than Minnesota. Even if the Wild are more equipped to trade punches with opponents now than they’ve been in ages (perhaps ever?).
The Wild didn’t really look listless in Game 4, but the Golden Knights burned them on some Grade-A chances. With the Golden Knights’ 4-0 win in Game 4, the Wild now face elimination, as Vegas improved its series lead to 3-1.
While we’ll get into one area where Vegas hurt Minnesota, let’s not kid ourselves. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be stellar, and might even be topping his regular season, which is Vezina Trophy finalist material.
Fleury earned his 16th career playoff shutout, tying Curtis Joseph for third all-time. (Martin Brodeur’s the record holder at 24, while Patrick Roy generated 23.)
Wild lost Game 4 to Golden Knights in transition
If you look at the Golden Knights’ first three goals vs. the Wild in Game 4, it was all about Minnesota getting burned in transition.
Nicolas Roy‘s opening goal wasn’t really a full-on breakaway. In some cases, it was about defensemen getting caught flat-footed, or being overpowered. But either way, Vegas was able to do its greatest damage when Minnesota couldn’t get totally set defensively.
By himself, Alex Tuch scored on a rush/partial breakaway, and nearly scored on at least one other opportunity. Mark Stone also burned the Wild on a semi-breakaway shorthanded goal.
How much of this is systemic? Can Dean Evason make some adjustments to try to avoid being burned on breakouts? It could be the cost of doing business, particularly if the Wild find themselves down by a goal or more, as they did vs. the Golden Knights in Game 4.
Kaprizov and a mild power play
When your power play is struggling, allowing a shorthanded goal must feel like adding injuries to insults.
Eriksson Ek denied on breakaway. 4 shots on the 2 PP's, 1 shorthanded goal.
Wild PP now 0 for 8 in the playoffs and finishing the season 2 for 20 in 9 games since April 28
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) May 23, 2021
Perhaps this would be an area where the Wild can help Kirill Kaprizov gain some traction during this series? So far, Kaprizov has only generated a single point (an assist in Game 3) in his first taste of NHL playoff action.
Now, you don’t want to overcorrect. This isn’t about getting Kaprizov scoring; it’s about getting Minnesota in position to win.
That said, Kaprizov might be able to win you the occasional game that instead went Vegas’ way. The Golden Knights didn’t overwhelm the Wild with a volume of shots in Game 4, as Vegas often does. Instead, they were able to finish chances, and Marc-Andre Fleury was once again razor-sharp.
Even beyond winning Game 1, the opening contests in this series worked more to Minnesota’s strengths, despite taking place in Vegas. Maybe they can find their game again on the road? They certainly don’t have much time to find answers, as the Wild now must win three in a row against the Golden Knights to avoid a First Round exit.
WILD – GOLDEN KNIGHTS FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1: Wild 1, Golden Knights 0 (OT)
Game 2: Golden Knights 3, Wild 1
Game 3: Golden Knights 5, Wild 2
Game 4: Golden Knights 4, Wild 0
Monday, May 24: Wild at Golden Knights 10:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)
*Wednesday, May 26: Golden Knights at Wild TBD
*Friday, May 28: Golden Knights TBD
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.