Backed by an impressive record, lengthy win streak and one of the NHL’s superstars, the Maple Leafs were a measuring stick for the Wild and its recent surge.
Now, others might start saying that about the Wild.
The team confirmed its emergence as one of the best in the league on Saturday, outdueling Toronto 4-3 in a shootout in front of 18,568 at Xcel Energy Center to secure a season-high sixth straight win while also handing Toronto just its third loss over the past 18 games.
No team in the NHL has more wins than the Wild (17), and its 35 points are tied for the most in the Western Conference after it swept a five-game homestand.
“It’s not easy to play against the Wild,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “I think you’re going to start seeing that shift, and hopefully that elevates our game.”
Kirill Kaprizov scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout, the first of his career, and goalie Cam Talbot stopped two out of three Maple Leafs shooters after making 39 stops through regulation and overtime.
The action progressing all the way to the last possible stage indicated how evenly matched these teams are, but it also pointed to a rough second period by the Wild, which blew a three-goal lead for the first time this season.
Jason Spezza started Toronto’s comeback at 12 minutes, 47 seconds before scoring again on the power play at 17:51. Auston Matthews, who led the NHL in goals last season, added another power-play goal with 50 seconds left in the third.
“We just gotta understand that we gotta play the right way all the time,” Marcus Foligno said. “We turned over the pucks and that led to the power plays for them, and they’re gonna capitalize.”
That sloppiness appeared after an attentive start by the Wild.
Both sides were engaged in a feeling-out process until Jordan Greenway crashed into Matthews, teeing off a fight between Foligno and Wayne Simmonds and igniting an intensity that Greenway’s line with Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek feasted on all game while going head-to-head against Matthews and Co.
“I thought that was an opportunity to frustrate him … and just to show them that we were coming and we weren’t backing down,” Greenway said. “I think that’s really what started things.”
Not even two minutes later, with 24 seconds left in the first period, Greenway buried the rebound from a Dumba shot that hit the post for his second goal in the past three games.
In the second period, Mats Zuccarello’s centering feed caromed off the Maple Leafs’ Justin Holl and flew behind goalie Jack Campbell at 5:21, a goal that snapped an 0-for-21 drought on the power play. That unit went 1-for-5 overall.
Kaprizov’s assist on the goal was his 11th point during a season-high five-game point streak.
Then, at 8:07, Eriksson Ek’s shot hit the referee and Foligno buried the loose puck to put the Wild ahead 3-0.
Not only was the goal Foligno’s fifth over his past eight games, but it marked the first time in his 11-year NHL career that he’s reached the 10-goal plateau in three straight seasons.
“We know what we got to do to help this team win games,” said Eriksson Ek, who picked up two assists. “I think we created a lot on the forecheck, just trying to get sticks in there and be a hard line to play.”
Despite a tone-setting performance by that line, the Wild still faded the rest of the period before recalibrating in the third.
The team was also dialed in during overtime, which included an abbreviated power play for the Maple Leafs.
In the shootout, Zuccarello opened the scoring and Matthews responded for Toronto with a highlight-reel backhander. But Kaprizov answered with his own flashy move, a top-shelf floater over Campbell, who had 37 saves.
Talbot, who stymied William Nylander in regulation with his pad, made another stop on Nylander in the shootout to finalize the victory — a performance that the Wild might look back on as a turning point in its season.
“We’re definitely showing everyone and ourselves that we can play with anyone,” Greenway said. “We can.”