Keeping up with the skill, speed and strength of the Vegas Golden Knights has been every bit the challenge that was expected for the Minnesota Wild.
Thanks to Cam Talbot, they haven’t yet had to give up the chase.
“It’s kind of like his baseline now,” Wild defenseman Ian Cole said after Talbot made 38 saves in their 3-2 victory in Game 5 of the best-of-seven first round series. Game 6 is Wednesday night.
The Wild had only 14 shots on goal and were badly outplayed over the final two periods, but Talbot took care of the rest.
“We never quit. We were doing everything we could, putting everything we could in front of the puck,” Talbot said. “It was a grind, but those are the kind of games you have to win on the road.”
The 33-year-old, in his first season with Minnesota, now has two of the seven highest save totals in franchise history for playoff games.
His 42 stops in a 1-0 victory in Game 1 on May 16 placed fourth. Only Niklas Backstrom (44) in 2008, Manny Fernandez (43) in 2003 and Josh Harding (43) in 2013 are higher. Devan Dubnyk (40) in 2018 and Dwayne Roloson (39) in 2003 rank fifth and sixth, respectively, before Talbot’s performance on Monday. Fernandez was the only other winner of an elimination game on that list.
The amusing old cliché of a goaltender standing on his head to minimize the scoring by an aggressive opponent has certainly applied to Talbot in this series, though Marc-Andre Fleury has taken up most of the spotlight for the Golden Knights on the other end with a .946 save percentage. Talbot’s impact can be more relevantly applied by demeanor than with degree of difficulty of the shots he’s faced.
“He’s a pro’s pro. He shows up every day and works hard,” right wing Marcus Foligno said. “He doesn’t complain much and just goes about his business. He’s just calm and cool.”
Talbot, a Canadian who went undrafted out of Alabama-Huntsville, broke into the league with the New York Rangers and learned behind star Henrik Lundqvist before being traded to Edmonton. In his second year there, he led all NHL goalies with 73 games played and 42 wins while helping the Oilers advance to the second round of the 2017 playoffs. That’s the only round they’ve won since 2006.
Talbot signed with the Wild for $11 million over three seasons, his fourth team in three years, giving general manager Bill Guerin a relative bargain for filling the spot held by Dubnyk for the previous six seasons. Among goalies, Talbot isn’t even in the top 25 in the league in average annual salary.
“You never know if it’s a big save, because there’s nothing extra. When you see the highlights after you go, ‘Holy smokes. What a great save,’” coach Dean Evason said earlier this year. “But it’s just so efficient and so calm.”
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