There are no such things as moral victories for the Wild. Not at this point in the season. Not for a team that has the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
Still, their 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center sure felt like a moral victory in the grand scheme of things.
With the Wild down a couple of players for most of the night and visibly exhausted in the final minutes, they still managed to erase a two-goal deficit to force overtime. That’s where Evgeni Malkin eventually played hero for the Penguins with a nifty move behind the net to beat Cam Talbot.
“It’s a great hockey game, right?” said coach Dean Evason, praising the Wild for mounting yet another comeback to get a point. “We really liked our resilience and our pushback. It would have been easy to fold at 3-1 for sure. The guys just kept doing the right things.”
Meanwhile, Kirill Kaprizov tied Marian Gaborik’s franchise record for points in a single season. The 24-year-old Russian scored a goal and now has 83 points with 16 games to play. In other words, Kaprizov is going to obliterate the franchise record.
Not long after puck drop the Wild found themselves chasing the game. That’s because Rickard Rakell scored on a perfect redirection 66 seconds into the contest to put the Penguins in front 1-0.
It wasn’t an ideal start for the Wild, especially against a veteran-laden team like the Penguins, but Matt Dumba tied the game at 1-1 midway through the first period. With chaos in front of goaltender Casey DeSmith’s crease, Dumba managed to jam a loose puck a few inches past the goal line.
“I wanted to put it away a little bit better than that,” Dumba said. “But it crossed the goal line.”
That score held until early in the second period when Jake Guentzel scored on the power play to put the Penguins back in front 2-1. That was the start of a rather sloppy frame for the Wild that featured a couple of penalties. The deficit grew midway through the period when Rakell scored on a perfect pass from Sidney Crosby.
It looked like Jordan Greenway cut into the deficit late in the second period with a goal off the rush. The officials reviewed the play, however, and ruled Marcus Foligno offside. On the ensuing sequence, Freddy Gaudreau finished off a feed from Kevin Fiala to cut the deficit to 3-2, for real this time.
“That was big,” Gaudreau said of his goal. “It’s not something we want, when we score and build that momentum, to get the ref (calling) it off. We did a good job coming back from it. It brings the momentum back.”
That gave the Wild some juice heading into the third period, and Kaprizov promptly tied the game at 3-3 with a blast from the slot, pulling even with Gaborik in the process. While both teams pushed hard in the final 20 minutes, neither mustered a goal.
That set the stage for overtime where Talbot made a series of clutch saves before Malkin stuffed home the game-winner. Though the loss snapped a seven-game winning streak, the Wild wrapped up the homestand 7-1-1.
“We banked 15 out of 18 on this homestand, so I’d say it’s a pretty good homestand,” Talbot said. “That team’s got a lot of Stanley Cup pedigree back there, so that’s a good measuring stick, and we were right there with them the whole night.”
Matt Boldy and Jon Merrill both suffered apparent injuries in the game and did not return to action. It sounds like Merrill’s injury is more serious. He will not travel with the Wild on the upcoming road trip.