Jan. 29—NEW YORK — The fact that the Wild and the New York Rangers actually had to play a game on Friday night at Madison Square Garden felt, well, a little bit awkward.
This was Henrik Lundqvist's night through and through. The legendary goaltender got his No. 30 jersey retired in a pregame ceremony that was so spectacular it made the actual game between the Wild and the Rangers feel like more of an afterthought.
After Lundqvist watched pridefully as his No. 30 jersey got raised to the rafters of the most famous arena in the world, his wife and kids by his side, both teams rushed back to their respective locker rooms to get ready for the game.
Unfortunately for Lundqvist, the Wild spoiled his party, shaking off an emotional hangover early on, and earning an impressive 3-2 win. Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello, and Freddy Gaudreau scored the goals for the Wild, and Cam Talbot finished with 25 saves.
In the most expensive NHL game so far this season, with the average purchase price sitting at $584 in the hours leading up to puck drop, the Rangers gave the announced crowd of 18,006 something to cheer about early on.
With the Wild looking out of sorts, winger Barclay Goodrow put the Rangers in front 1-0 midway through the first period, finishing off a highlight-reel sequence with an easy goal. As the frame wound to a close, winger Chris Kreider stretched the Rangers' lead to 2-0.
Admittedly, the Wild had heavy legs after sitting for about 45 minutes during the pregame ceremony. Not that they were using it as an excuse considering the Rangers were in the same boat.
"Just had to settle down and get into the game," said Zuccarello, who stretched his point streak to 10 games. "We got the first period out of the way, and then I think we took over and were the best team."
That was clear as soon as the second period started as the Wild came out on fire. They were rewarded for their efforts midway through the frame when Fiala scored to cut the deficit to 2-1.
"We knew it wasn't good enough," said Fiala, who also stretched his point streak to 10 games. "Everything they did was just better. They were faster and more physical and more hungry. The good thing about our group is we can kind of just flip the switch. Obviously we don't want to do that. We want to be ready from the start to the end. But on nights like this, it's good we can figure it out and take it over."
Not long after Fiala scored, Lundqvist's best bud Zuccarello helped the Wild tie the game at 2-2. The sequence was pure comedy as Zuccarello scored while Lundqvist was talking about him on the Rangers' television broadcast.
"Don't let that guy score," Lundqvist said literally as Zuccarello unleashed a shot through traffic that beat goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Henrik Lundqvist just jinxed his own team. The comedic timing on this is impeccable (sound on) pic.twitter.com/yPrNQNbWPT
— Nicole Shirman (@nicolefshirman) January 29, 2022
That paved the way for the third period, where Gaudreau pushed the Wild in front 3-2 with a snipe off the rush. That goal helped him redeem himself after being denied on a penalty shot earlier in the game.
"Just tried to get the shot on," Gaudreau said. "I felt like (a defender) was coming, so I tried to get the shot off as quick as possible."
That proved to be the game-winner as the Wild locked it down in front of Talbot to close out the game. In the closing seconds, the Rangers appeared to tie the game at 3-3, only to have the officials wave it off.
Initially, Evason said he was convinced it was going to be a goal. After watching the replay with assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, though, and seeing center Ryan Strome push Talbot's pad near the crease, Evason felt confident the call on the ice was going to stand.
"A good call by (referee) Jon McIsaac," Evason said. "He called it immediately. Tough building to make that call. It was the right call."
And the Wild held on for the win.
"It was a perfect day," said Zuccarello, who was grateful he got to share the moment with Lundqvist. "It was obviously very emotional, a great ceremony, and then to get the win is a bonus."