Oct. 16—ANAHEIM, Calif. — It's been an awkward past few days for the Wild as they have patiently waited for the puck to drop.
While the NHL opened its season on Tuesday night — the Pittsburgh Penguins played the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning; the Seattle Kraken debuted against the Vegas Golden Knights — the Wild were just wrapping up a team building trip in Duluth. They arrived back in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, had the day off on Wednesday, and practiced on Thursday before flying to the West Coast.
Needless to say, the Wild were more than ready for their season opener against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at Honda Center.
"Just watching games the excitement builds," captain Jared Spurgeon said before the game. "We are raring to get going."
In the end, alternate captain Marcus Foligno played hero, scoring the game-winner with 7.2 seconds left to lift the Wild to a dramatic 2-1 win. It was a bit of instant karma for Foligno after he spent nearly an entire period in the penalty box for a fight with Ducks winger Max Jones.
"Yeah," Foligno said. "I could have had a bucket of popcorn and sat with you guys and watched the second period and then came back down for the third period."
Luckily for Foligno, he was well-rested down the stretch, and he atoned for missing so much time by scoring a big goal. As goaltender Cam Talbot joked, "Obviously sitting in the box for 17 minutes he's probably fresh at the end there so it worked out for us."
Indeed. With the final seconds ticking away, defenseman Matt Dumba fired an initial shot on net, and Foligno found the rebound on his stick. The rest of the sequence was pure luck as Foligno corralled the puck and unleashed a spinning shot that somehow found the back of the net.
"I thought I might have had more body position if I kind of did a spin-o-rama," Foligno said. "Just got lucky."
While the goal itself wasn't very pretty, the celebration by Foligno was a thing of beauty. He looked skyward while laying flat on his back and raised his arms over his head.
"Just happy that it went in," Foligno said with a laugh. "I've gotta stay on my feet next time."
It felt like it was always going to take a whacky goal to beat Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz considering how well he played throughout the game. He made his presence felt from the onset with 15 saves in the first period alone. Not bad considering the only reason Stolarz was playing in the first place was because All Star goaltender John Gibson missed the game with a lower-body injury.
As for Talbot on the other end, he made some big saves for the Wild in the first period, none bigger than his denial of Rickard Rakell on the doorstep.
The biggest thing to come out of the first period, though, was the fight between Foligno and Jones. It wasn't much of a fight as Foligno annihilated Jones with a series of haymakers after a getting cross checked in the back after the whistle.
When the dust settled, Foligno and Jones both got tagged with respective 5-minute majors for fighting and 10-minute misconducts. In addition, Foligno, who got cross checked to start the dust up, also got called for interference, which put the Wild on the penalty kill.
"It's a tough one," coach Dean Evason said. "You talk to the refs about it and they acknowledged that they didn't like that Moose threw the punch with the refs there. But he doesn't do that if he wasn't instigated. They both got 10 minutes, which I didn't realize at the start of it. I thought it was just Moose."
Naturally, the Ducks capitalized on the questionable call, with winger Jakob Silfverberg scoring on the power play early in the second period to give his team a 1-0 lead.
That score held until late in the second period when winger Kevin Fiala helped the Wild level the score at 1-1 after a pretty pass from fellow winger Mats Zuccarello. That goal came shortly after Foligno finally emerged from the penalty box.
"You can't say enough about what he brings to this lineup," Talbot said. "When he's sitting in the box for 17 minutes, we know it's killing him, and he wants to be out there. Then he goes and makes an impact like that like he always does."
That set the stage for the third period where Talbot literally saved the game for the Wild with an incredible sprawling save to deny veteran center Ryan Getzlaf in close.
"He's a big boy in front and no one can really move him," Talbot said of Getzlaf. "He's been doing that for years. Just tried to throw anything I could in front of it and tried to take away the far side of the net. I know he has a long reach. There's not really much going through my head there except put something in front of it and hope it hits it."
That kept the score tied entering the final minutes of play and set the stage for Foligno to play hero in the waning seconds. Poetically.