Wild never stops challenging, stuns Jets 6-5 in OT to win home opener

·5 min read
Wild never stops challenging, stuns Jets 6-5 in OT to win home opener

The Wild's season started days ago, but this felt like the official coronation.

Back-and-forth action against a long-standing rival in front of a sellout crowd.

Welcome back to the old NHL, where the Wild is currently leading the resurgence.

After shedding four deficits, including the final one in the last minute of regulation, the Wild finally overcame the Jets 6-5 in overtime on Tuesday to stay undefeated in its home opener in front of an announced crowd of 18,156 — the largest to witness a Wild game at Xcel Energy Center since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the first time the Wild has debuted 3-0 since 2015.

"That's the way a hockey game should be, especially with the fans back," winger Mats Zuccarello said. "It was unbelievable."

Joel Eriksson Ek polished off his first career hat trick 3 minutes, 30 seconds into overtime after the center tied the score at 5 by whacking in a puck with 59 seconds to go in the third period.

Before that, Winnipeg had a sixth goal reversed — an empty-netter by Mark Scheifele with 1:14 to go — after the Wild successfully challenged for offsides, a signal that came from the team's video coaches, Jonas Plumb and TJ Jindra, from their headquarters in the bowels of the arena.

"Neither one of them will take any credit if you talk to them, but it was a great call," coach Dean Evason said. "They were ready to drop the puck, too, and when they called down to [assistant coach Brett McLean], Mac was just screaming for the refs to get their attention. So, great call."

That turned the score back to 5-4, setting up Eriksson Ek's swipe at the puck with his back to the net.

He was facing his target on the next goal, as the Wild broke out for a 3-on-1 rush during an overtime power play and Eriksson Ek buried a Kirill Kaprizov pass by Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck to cap off his career night.

BOXSCORE: Wild 6, Winnipeg 5 (OT)

"I'm just trying to be around the net," said Eriksson Ek, whose three goals lead the team. "I always say it, but that's where it usually happens for me. Just trying to create chances by hanging around there and battling those [defensemen]."

Aside from registering a hat trick, Eriksson Ek won a career-best 19 faceoffs out of 25 draws, to go along with an eye-popping 10 shot attempts.

"[He] does everything and doesn't even blink an eye," Evason said. "That's just what he does, goes about his business."

Overall, the evening was a boon for Eriksson Ek's line: Kaprizov had a career-high three assists, and Zuccarello tied a career high with four points.

"Everyone played hard," winger Marcus Foligno said. "Everyone played in your face, emotional."

The Jets seized their first lead 3:48 into the game when Kyle Connor wired a shot by Wild goaltender Cam Talbot, but the Wild responded only 53 seconds later when Zuccarello pounced on a rebound.

Winnipeg answered back on Connor's second goal of the night at 8:17, and then the feistiness picked up.

Kaprizov, who had the Jets' attention when he was on the ice, caught a piece of 6-7 Logan Stanley and was penalized for roughing. When he exited the penalty box, Kaprizov was taken down by Pierre-Luc Dubois.

On the ensuing power play, the Wild evened the score at 18:40 on a wraparound backhander by Eriksson Ek. Then came more fireworks, with Foligno and Brenden Dillon dropping the gloves after the next faceoff — a fight that included a jumping punch from Foligno.

"Just a last-second decision to change it up," said Foligno, who flung off some of his equipment as he left the action.

The same routine happened in the second, with the Wild once again playing catch-up.

Josh Morrissey put Winnipeg ahead 3-2 on the power play at 5:49, but the Wild retaliated with 2:01 left in the second on a poke check by Hellebuyck that caromed in off Zuccarello. Hellebuyck finished with 38 saves.

In the third period, the Jets went ahead by two goals: DuBois tallied another power play goal at 4:19 and Andrew Copp converted on a rising shot at 6:37.

But Foligno stuffed in a loose puck on the power play with 4:58 to go, setting the stage for Eriksson Ek's two-goal finish.

His game-winner on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime came after Talbot made a clutch stop on Stanley. Talbot ended up with 25 saves, and the Wild power play went 3-for-5; Winnipeg was 2-for-6.

"Talbs came up with a huge save for us," Eriksson Ek said. "We knew they were shorthanded, and two guys were caught up high. We're just trying to go that way as quickly as possible, and Kevin [Fiala] and Kirill set me up really well on the back door. Just trying to get there and get open."

After celebrating on the ice, the Wild huddled in the locker room and Evason brought up Tom Kurvers to the group.

The team honored Kurvers before puck drop after the Wild assistant general manager passed away from cancer in June, and players believed a presence was looking out for them in the game — an outcome that will probably linger for more than a few reasons.

"Ekker whacks a puck out of the air," Foligno said. "I mean, great goal, but it's fluky and you've just got to believe that there's a guardian angel over you tonight and Tom really had our back tonight.

"That's the way we felt all night. We had someone watching us and then pushing us and although we felt like, yeah, we were down in the game at some points, we always knew we could get back and win."

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