Kaprizov, Gustavsson lead way in Wild’s 5-2 victory at Carolina

Kirill Kaprizov scored a hat trick that included an empty-netter with 2:01 remaining in regulation as the Wild finished a tough, three-game road trip with a 5-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Joel Eriksson Ek scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, and Jake Middleton sealed it with an empty netter with 55.5 seconds left as the Wild finished a 2-1 road trip that included Friday’s 6-4 victory over the Florida Panthers.

Filip Gustavsson was the key for Minnesota, stopping 40 shots on goal as the Wild were outshot 42-19. The Wild have won three of their past four games and pulled within six points of idle Nashville for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

The Wild move into their Jan. 28-Feb. 6 All-Star Game break with three home games this week, including a meeting with the Predators on Thursday night. They start with Washington on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Martin Necas and Michael Bunting scored goals, and goaltender Antti Raanta allowed three goals on 17 shots for the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes entered the game averaging 33.2 shots on goal per game — seventh most in the NHL — and just about hit that mark after two periods, outshooting the Wild 31-11. But they were down 2-1 thanks to Gustavsson, who faced a barrage from the get-go, exacerbated by the fact that Minnesota had major trouble getting the puck out of its own end.

Gustavsson kept the Wild in it with several big saves, but he credited teammates for their defense in front of him.

“Today they were really good with picking up the sticks and boxing out, so they couldn’t really touch (pucks),” Gustavsson told Bally Sports North after the game. “Then there’s really no redirection, and it’s way easier for me to see.”

Carolina broke the seal after, again, the Hurricanes foiled a Wild bid to get the puck past the red line. Dmitry Orlov intercepted an outlet pass by Brock Faber and kicked it back into the Wild zone, setting up a quick tic-tac-toe rush that Martin Necas ended with a one-timer from the left circle at 14:02.

At that point, the Hurricanes were outshooting the Wild 14-1.

“I thought the first period we were back on our heels a little bit,” coach John Hynes told reporters in Raleigh. “But I thought we played the game more the way we needed to play in the second and third.”

The Wild answered Carolina’s goal fairly quickly on a brief forecheck. Marco Rossi corralled a puck off the sideboard and sent it back to Alex Goligoski, who was winding up for a slap shot just beneath the blue line. With Carolina’s Seth Jarvis closing fast, Goligoski let it rip, and Kaprizov deflected it past Raanta from the slot to tie the game 1-1 at 17:43.

It was only the Wild’s second shot on goal.

The Wild took a lead seconds after a power play ended. Matt Boldy, who fanned on a pair of chances during the man advantage, saved possession and sent a pass to Kaprizov in the high slot. Kaprizov spun and shot, the puck finding its way through traffic and into the net for a 2-1 lead at 6:09.

Bunting tied the game early in the third period on a Wild turnover in the Hurricanes’ zone, corralling a loose puck, then skating across ice to take a pass above the left circle, skate in and fire a wrist shot that beat Gustavsson to the weak side to make it 2-2 at 8:17. But the Wild answered just over a minute later.

Eriksson Ek finished one of the best Wild forechecks of the night by pounding home a puck in a large scrum at the crease to give the Wild a 3-2 lead at 9:32.

Carolina pulled Raanta for an extra attacker with 2:48 left, but the Wild tightened defensively and scored two long empty-netters to seal a 2-1 road trip against three Eastern Conference playoff teams, Florida (2), Carolina (5) and Tampa Bay (6).

“Three really good teams, three teams that force you to play the game the right way,” Hynes told reporters in his postgame news conference. “And I thought for the most part we did that on the latter half of the trip.”

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