Kevin Fiala could only do so much. He continues to play with the most confidence of his career, dating back to his invincible hot streak when the league shut down in March, and he showed off his skill in Game 2 of his Minnesota Wild’s qualifying-round matchup. First was a snipe, short-side glove, over Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom in the third period. The second was a lightning-quick one timer that beat Markstrom before he could even react.
But Fiala symbolizes everything that’s right and wrong for the Wild in this series. He’s becoming a legitimate star before our eyes – but it sometimes appears he’s all his team has when trailing and desperate for the kind of impose-your-will goal reserved for top-tier talents.
Vancouver, on the other hand, profiles as the opposite. The Wild are deep and experienced. The Canucks are young and top heavy. They iced a depleted lineup Tuesday night, missing Tyler Toffoli (walking boot), and Adam Gaudette (unfit to play). Bruiser Micheal Ferland exited Game 2 with an undisclosed injury, and left winger Antoine Roussel departed after taking a puck to the face. The Canucks’ top-nine forward group was decimated, but it didn’t matter.
It all came down to the one clear edge Vancouver has over Minnesota in this qualifying-round series: star power.
With Toffoli out, right winger Brock Boeser rejoined Vancouver’s top line alongside J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson. Miller waited Wild defenseman Matt Dumba out with a curl-and-drag before roofing a wrister to put the Canucks up 2-1 in the second. Boeser perfectly positioned himself beside Wild goalie Alex Stalock’s right pad for a tap in to make it 3-1 just a few minutes later. That line controlled play for the Canucks in Game 2. At 5-on-5, they out-attempted the Wild 9-7, outshot them 5-3, outchanced them 6-4 and outscored them 2-0.
“It was nice to play with ‘Petey’ and ‘Millsy,’ ” Boeser said via Zoom conference call after Game 2. “Obviously we have some chemistry from the past, so I feel that we picked up where we left off. Us top-six forwards needed to contribute tonight, and I thought we did that.”
Bo Horvat chipped in Vancouver’s fourth goal with a perfect deflection on a point shot from defenseman Quinn Hughes, adding to the list of big-name, first-round talents carrying Vancouver Tuesday night.
“I think they all knew that for us to win, to move on in this series, they’re going to have to be a factor,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “It’s hard to win in any playoff series if your top guys aren’t producing. I was happy for them tonight. There’s been a lot of talk of it over the last couple days, and they all played well.”
The Wild, meanwhile, have no goals at 5-on-5 across the first two games of the series. They hold the overall shot-attempt edge in 5-on-5 play so far, albeit partially skewed by them pouring it on late in Game 2 when trailing 4-1, but the finish simply hasn’t been there, which must be disappointing for a team that ranked second in the league in 5-on-5 shooting percentage during the regular season. Minnesota also ranked 12th overall in offense this season but largely because it had nine players score in double figures. The Wild had one player top 50 points. They aren’t equipped to keep pace when Vancouver’s top stars spring loose. In Game 1, the Wild’s clampdown defense got the job done, but the Canucks’ talent could only be contained for so long.
And if Vancouver’s depth forwards remain out through Game 3, its top-six stars face even more pressure to deliver. It appears the battle between them and the Wild’s tight defensive scheme will define this series.