The Wild’s second-half slump is officially in the rearview mirror.
Still basking in the afterglow of a trade deadline makeover, the Wild shrugged off the upstart Canucks 3-2 in overtime on Thursday in front of 17,333 at Xcel Energy Center for its fourth straight win.
As a result, the team reclaimed second place in the Central Division, demoting St. Louis to third.
“Our game has tightened up,” coach Dean Evason said. “It’s had to.”
Kirill Kaprizov scored his team-leading 33rd goal and added an assist, giving him the third-most points for a single season in Wild history at 78, and Joel Eriksson Ek’s tiebreaker 31 seconds into overtime counted as the game-winner.
Between the pipes, goaltender Cam Talbot turned aside 26 shots for his seventh consecutive victory, which is the longest active streak in the NHL and ties Talbot’s career high.
“He’s a great goaltender, and I think we as a team have stepped up our game too, which obviously helps him,” Jon Merrill said. “But he’s made some big saves in some crucial times to keep us in these games and help us get these wins.”
This stinginess combined with timely offense clicked for the Wild after the team fell into an early hole when a puck bounced off newcomer Jake Middleton’s stick into the slot, and Vancouver captain Bo Horvat buried the carom 4:13 into the first period.
Just seconds before that, Talbot fended off a 3-on-1 for the Canucks by kicking out his pad against Burnsville’s Brock Boeser.
But the Vancouver advantage was short-lived.
By 8:08, the Wild’s deficit disappeared after strong work along the boards by Kaprizov culminated in a give-and-go with Ryan Hartman that Kaprizov wired top shelf over Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko for his 60th career goal in his 116th game. Among active players, only the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin has scored that many goals in fewer games (95).
“That Kaprizov is pretty dynamic,” said former Wild coach and Vancouver bench boss Bruce Boudreau. “The one thing he can do is he’s so accurate with his shot.”
Kaprizov, who assisted on Eriksson Ek’s goal and has at least a point in 28 of his past 33 games played, is five points behind Marian Gaborik’s single-season points record (83) and nine goals shy of tying the team’s goals record (42) .
Of Kaprizov’s 60 goals, Mats Zuccarello has assisted on 27 of them (45%).
“He was hitting his spots,” Boudreau said of Kaprizov. “Demko just made the save.”
Just 1:44 into the second period, Kevin Fiala pounced on a rebound off an offensive-zone faceoff for his 21st goal and 12th point in his past 11 games to give the Wild a lead that appeared to briefly balloon after Merrill capitalized on a shot during a delayed Vancouver penalty later in the period.
But Boudreau challenged to see if the play was offside, and the video review showed Fiala preceded the puck into the zone to negate the goal.
The Wild was awarded the power play after not scoring on the delayed penalty but blanked on the opportunity, going 0-for-2.
As for the Canucks, they went 1-for-3 after JT Miller’s shot sailed through traffic 7:56 into the third — an equalizer that extended the action before Eriksson Ek’s breakaway led to his second career overtime goal. Demko totaled 33 saves.
“It’s really important for us to keep building and getting better here at the end of the season,” Eriksson Ek said.
Since a 4-9 funk in which the team gave up four or more goals on nine occasions, the Wild is 6-1-1 and has allowed more than two goals just three times.
This improvement overlapped with the team’s recent shakeup that added goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, forwards Nic Deslauriers and Tyson Jost and Middleton via trades, moves that appear to have reinforced the identity the Wild needs to succeed.
“I’d like to think we’re a playoff-built team,” Merrill said. “I think that caters to our game, a heavier style, a simpler game. We’re getting pucks over our blue line and into their end, and that’s where I think our skill takes over.”