The Isles have run into several hot goalies over the past month, but none have been as impressive as Devan Dubnyk during a first period dominated by the Isles, who outshot Minnesota 16-5 in the period.
Things leveled out slightly in the second period, though the Isles continued to push the pace. They scored first at the end of the period after an exchange of the game's solitary power plays. After the Isles killed off Minnesota's only opportunity, the officials promptly evened up the ledger on a hold by Mikael Granlund that was both a penalty and something they let go during the game's other 64 minutes.
Though the Isles likewise couldn't convert on their power play, their leftover pressure led to the goal by John Tavares, who set up Kyle Okposo in front and then joined the piranha frenzy of Isles forwards atop the crease to pop the final rebound past Dubnyk.
So the Isles entered the second intermission with a 1-0 lead, but you knew the Wild's pushback would come. Indeed, the Wild controlled most of the first 12 minutes of the third before Zach Parise finally cashed in on a tough-luck goal for the Isles. Jaroslav Halak -- who'd tossed five shutout periods in a row -- stopped the first shot, but Travis Hamonic inadvertently poked the rebound past Halak where Parise could send it over the line to tie.
There would be no further pucks over the line until Parise tallied the lone shootout conversion. Though Dubnyk had the busier night, Halak was equally impressive in stopping some prime scoring chances that could have tipped the game, er the regulation standings point, the other way.
Once the Wild tied it with eight minutes left in regulation, the NHL's traditional inter-conference point-sharing scam went into effect. Both teams need points, but don't need them from each other? Punt until overtime when both are already assured of one.
That's not entirely fair -- each team had chances after Parise's equalizer, particularly in the last minute's exchange of desperate heaves -- but the urgency had receded.
Overtime was a different story. John Tavares and Ryan Strome exchanged handoffs to put pressure on during a couple of shifts, and Johnny Boychuk was set up down low before being stopped by Dubnyk. Halak also came out far to challenge and make a stick-side save on Vanek. Halak also came up big on a three-on-two exchange where he waited out the Wild's cross-slot passes.
In the shootout, Frans Nielsen was stopped on an unconvincing five-hole attempt, while Zach Parise's try was pushed in by Halak's glove after he initially stopped it against the post. Okposo had Dubnyk beat but lost the handle on the puck. Mikko Koivu was stopped by a patient Halak, but Tavares' slow backhand dally didn't fool Dubnyk either.
Elsewhere in the Metropolitan Division race, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in overtime, so the Isles stayed two points ahead in second place, which represents home ice advantage in an increasingly likely playoff encounter. The Rangers lost in regulation to the Kings -- who are next on the Isles' docket Thursday -- so the Smurfs' lead in the Metro was "trimmed" to six.
The Wild continued their surge into playoff position with a franchise record 10th consecutive road win. The victory puts them five points clear of the drop zone in the Western playoff race.
With the Isles controlling play from the outset, the fans welcomed the Isles back home with a healthy din throughout the game, especially in that dominant first period. Pat LaFontaine's return might have helped set the mood, too.
Meanwhile, though they didn't factor much in the game, ex-momentary-Isles Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter each received a steady flow of boos whenever they did touch the puck. Sean Bergenheim logged 10 minutes, and surely thought he deserved more.
The Other Race
The goal brought Tavares back into a tie for the league scoring lead with Sidney Crosby. Crosby went pointless against the Blues, who remain the only team he's yet to score a goal against.
Quote of the Night
"For my first two years [Al Arbour] wouldn't let me take a defensive zone faceoff. It was always Butchie or Brent or Trots coming out there to bump me out. Finally at the end of my second year I took one, against Richie Sutter of the Flyers. I turned my wrists over so hard -- there was no way I was going to lose it -- both the puck and his stick went flying into the corner."
>>Pat LaFontaine, during a great intermission talk with Butch and Howie on MSG
Image of the Night
There were a lot of great game-footage photos in our feed from tonight, but we had to choose the scene above, captured from above here:
Terrific moment earlier as LaFontaine and friend Clinton Brown drop the first puck. Isles then high-fived Brown. pic.twitter.com/dRIEhx8GfM— Jerry Beach (@defiantlydutch) March 24, 2015