LAS VEGAS – Between hard hitting, fast skating, a torrid pace, spectacular goaltending — Game 1 of the first-round series between the Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday had everything but a goal in regulation.
The scoring drought ended with Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime that lifted the Wild past Vegas 1-0, helping Minnesota take home-ice advantage in the series.
Wild goaltender Cam Talbot stopped all 42 shots he faced and improved to 7-4-2 in 13 starts against the Golden Knights.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
The Wild improved to 6-1-2 against Vegas this season, including 3-1-1 at T-Mobile Arena. But grabbing the home-ice edge was critical for the Wild, who are 6-0-2 all-time against the Golden Knights in Minnesota.
Minnesota ranks first in the NHL in wins and standings points against the Golden Knights since Vegas entered the league in 2017.
Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, the first goalie in NHL history to play in 15 consecutive postseasons, made 29 saves. Fleury dropped to 7-14-0 in 21 starts against Minnesota.
After Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo failed to clear the puck, Eriksson Ek was in the slot to send a shot that went off the skate of Golden Knights defender Alec Martinez and past Fleury.
“You just try to get to that spot and the puck bounced out there and just tried to get it off as quick as possible,” Eriksson Ek said. “I think (Talbot) carried us on our back in the first period. They came out hard, and we held on. Cam played amazing. We got better and better. Just trying to take care of the puck better and making plays and being that aggressive team we want to be.
“This is the most fun time to play in. Playoffs, a lot of people in the stands too. You just want to get that extra energy. It’s fun.”
With 8,683 frenzied fans in attendance to create the loudest atmosphere of the season, an intense first period saw the Golden Knights outshoot the Wild 19-5 and both teams staying aggressive on the forecheck and in the hitting department.
Minnesota outhit Vegas 25-23 in the opening period. Talbot got some help from his skaters, too, as they registered 11 blocked shots to help keep the game scoreless.
“The longer it stays scoreless, it favors us,” Talbot said. “We bent in the first period, but we knew they were going to have a push and come out hard. I just have to focus on my game. I can’t worry about what happens at the other end.”
After falling short in overall shot attempts in the first period — Vegas had a total of 38 to Minnesota’s nine — the Wild flipped the script and did a much better job of turning pucks over, creating breakouts and getting better looks while keeping the Knights locked in their own zone. Fleury was busy in making some of his trademark glove-flashing windmill saves.
“I was just trying to take it one shot at a time against me,” Fleury said. “Our guys had the puck a lot in the first and it was quiet on my side. I was just cheering for them, trying to keep them in the game, keep the game close. It’s definitely frustrating to lose that one at the end.”
Though the Golden Knights were up 30-18 in shots after the second period, the three best saves to that point were by Fleury, who carried his momentum into the third period with several more saves, mostly against Ryan Hartman, who finished with several high-quality scoring chances.
“We’ve got to bear down on our chances, I think we had quite a few looks,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said.
“These guys are good. They’ve got plenty of guys in front of their net trying to block shots. We’ve got to find a way to break them down a bit. It’s disappointing we couldn’t get the win, couldn’t score one goal for (Fleury). There were times I think we were trying to cheat a little bit of offense because we were getting frustrated, and that’s on us.
“Flower did a great job to kind of bail us out in the third period, they had some really good chances to end it before they did.”
NOTES: Vegas welcomed Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek and Alec Martinez back to the lineup, but missed the offense of leading scorer Max Pacioretty, who remained out with an undisclosed injury. ... Both teams were blanked on the power play, with Vegas missing out on its three chances and Minnesota failing on its two. ... Teams that won Game 1 are 490-222 (68.8%) in winning a best-of-seven NHL playoff series — including 7-1 in the first round last season. ... Las Vegas Raiders' Darren Waller and Foster Moreau were in attendance. ... Waller, legendary rocker Gene Simmons from the band KISS, and Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer cranked the arena’s air-raid siren before each period, respectively.
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