ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild have proven themselves to be a tough out. The Vegas Golden Knights could use some work on their finishing touch.
Kevin Fiala had a goal and an assist in the third period to break open a scoreless game, Cam Talbot had his second shutout of the series and the Wild again staved off elimination with a 3-0 victory over the Golden Knights on Wednesday night.
“We’ve been playing like this all year long. When it comes down to it, when we need a big stand or a big game or a big period, we just always seem to find a way,” Talbot said.
The first-round series moves back to Las Vegas for the decisive Game 7 on Friday night. The Colorado Avalanche, who tied the Golden Knights for the best regular-season record in the NHL, await after sweeping the St. Louis Blues.
“It’s an opportunity to come out in your home arena with all your fans excited and full of emotion,” right wing Reilly Smith said. “So it’s the stuff we dreamed about as kids.”
Ryan Hartman scored first and Nick Bjugstad tacked on the last goal in support of Talbot, who made 23 stops. He had 38 saves Monday night to help the Wild steal Game 5 while being outshot 40-14.
“I knew the chances were going to come,” Hartman said. “It was only a matter of time.”
Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 21 stops, gave up three goals for the second straight game after allowing only four scores over the first four games.
Fiala, the team’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, went without a point in the first five games until tallying two at the best possible time. The Swiss left wing zinged a slap shot on a power play from the circle that sneaked underneath Fleury’s pad.
The Golden Knights nearly tied it moments before that on Chandler Stephenson’s shot from behind the circle that Talbot never saw. Alex Tuch was in the crease, arguing he was being pushed by Matt Dumba, and the goal was waved off. Not even the challenge by Vegas coach Peter DeBoer worked this time, after two earlier goals in the series by Joel Eriksson Ek were overturned by video review.
“If that one stood, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I’d just be getting fined,” Talbot said.
After 44:21 of scoreless play, this tightly checked game finally opened up when the bounce off a blocked shot caught the Golden Knights flat-footed and Fiala found space for an odd-man rush with Hartman. Fiala set his partner up perfectly, and Hartman sent the puck above Fleury’s glove to ignite the 25% capacity crowd at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild will try to become the 30th team in NHL history to win a series after a 3-1 deficit. The most recent was the San Jose Sharks, then coached by DeBoer, to beat Vegas in 2019. Minnesota has done it twice, both in 2003.
The Golden Knights, after reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2018 in their inaugural season, are 2-8 in the playoffs since then in games with a chance to advance.
“We believe in our team. We have one game in our home rink to move on. It’s that simple,” captain Mark Stone said.
After a penalty-free first period, the intensity gradually increased. Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno checked Zach Whitecloud hard enough that one of the stanchions came loose, disconnecting the glass pane as the Vegas defenseman went hurtling through the suddenly open space.
“There’s some big, big men out there,” Wild coach Dean Evason said.
Dumba leveled Tuch with a sharp mid-ice shoulder, prompting Golden Knights teammate Alec Martinez to drop the gloves with Dumba in solidarity with Tuch. Four years ago, to protect Dumba in the expansion draft, the Wild traded Tuch to Vegas.
For the Wild, the middle period was bound to be as pivotal a timeframe as they’ve had all season.
Often a step behind the speedier Golden Knights, particularly with the longer shift change, the Wild were outshot a stunning 22-1 in the second period of their 3-2 win on Monday and 72-40 over the first five games of the series. Vegas had an 8-1 goals advantage, too. Minnesota was outscored 61-46 in middle frames during the regular season.
The Golden Knights, still missing star Max Pacioretty to an undisclosed injury, held defenseman Brayden McNabb out for the second straight game. He’s on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list. Ryan Reaves was also scratched, and Cody Glass made his postseason debut on the third line.
For the Wild, defenseman Carson Soucy missed his second straight game, with rookie Calen Addison again taking his place. Matt Boldy, their first-round draft pick in 2019, took part in warmups but was left out of the lineup.
More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports