LAS VEGAS — For 60-plus minutes on Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena, the Wild couldn’t solve future hall of fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He proved to be a brick wall between the pipes, emphatically gloving down scoring chances in close, and sprawling post to post to make miraculous saves.
In overtime, though, Joel Eriksson Ek collected a puck in the slot, fired a shot on goal, and successfully beat Fleury to lift the Wild to a 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. The usually stoic Eriksson Ek let out a huge fist pump after scoring and was promptly mobbed by his teammates along the boards.
“That’s probably the most excitement we’re going to see out of him, right?” coach Dean Evason joked after the game. “You don’t see Ekker do that very often. Obviously it was a big moment.”
Meanwhile, goaltender Cam Talbot hurried over from the other side of the ice. He wanted to be a part of the celebration, too, and he certainly deserved it. If it weren’t for Talbot’s play between the pipes, Eriksson Ek never would’ve gotten a chance to score the game-winner. He finished with a 42-save shutout to help the Wild steal the game.
“That’s exactly the way we want to play,” Talbot said. “The longer it stays scoreless, I think it definitely favors us. Just a great game by both teams and happy to come out on top.”
It was a back-and-forth start to the first period with both the Wild and the Golden Knights matching each other’s intensity early on. That was to be expected in a playoff series between a couple of teams that have developed quite the rivalry over the past few seasons.
As the game progressed, though, the Golden Knights started to take control. Not only did they pepper Talbot with scoring chance after scoring chance, they held the Wild without a shot for the final 10 minutes of the first period.
Luckily for the Wild, they escaped the first period with a scoreless tie thanks to Talbot standing on his head.
“I think Talbs carried us on his back in the first period,” Eriksson Ek said. “They came out hard, and we held on.”
That paved the way for the second period, where the Wild started to push back. They got some good looks from in close with Ryan Hartman narrowly missing a goal on a handful of occasions. He couldn’t solve Fleury, showboating a couple of his glove saves to get the crowd into it.
“He likes that glove for sure,” Hartman said. “We seem to keep shooting there. Especially myself.”
That stellar play from Fleury continued into the third period as he made a miraculous save on Kirill Kaprizov to keep the game scoreless. After getting caught out of position with Kaprizov crashing to the net, Fleury sprawled to the far post and somehow steered the puck out of harm’s way. He followed it up with another dramatic glove save to deny Kevin Fiala.
“Not surprised by it all,” Talbot said. “He’s a first ballot hall of famer. He always comes to play in the big moments, so we expect that from him. Just trying to match him at the other end and play my game. Not worry about what he’s doing. Just make the saves at my end and give our guys a chance to win.”
That set the stage for Eriksson Ek to play hero in overtime. He collected the puck in the slot after linemates Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno made solid plays to set him up. There was nothing Fleury could do about the shot as it deflected in off Alec Martinez’s skate.
“We knew the way he was making saves that if we were to score it was going to be something like that,” Hartman said. “Just a tipped shot that trickles in.”
Not that the Wild will complain. In the end, it counts the same, and now they’re in the driver’s seat heading into Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“We want to try to take the momentum with us,” Talbot said. “But in the playoffs we never want to get too high or too low. Just kind of have to stay even keel. But we definitely want to take the good from this game and roll it forward.”