In Game 3 of the West Division first-round playoff series, Joel Eriksson Ek saw his first-period goal against the Vegas Golden Knights — a goal that would have given the Wild a 3-0 lead — overturned by a successful video challenge by coach Peter DeBoer, who argued that Minnesota was offside on the play. Vegas would go on to win 5-2 at Xcel Energy Center.
Two nights later, Eriksson Ek scored again, only to have it erased by another video challenge by the Golden Knights, this one protesting that Wild forward Marcus Foligno was interfering with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury‘s ability to play the puck. Vegas would win Game 4 4-0 in St. Paul and take a 3-1 series lead.
On Wednesday night in Game 6, the Xcel Energy Center faithful were waiting for what they believed was payback, and they got their wish in the third period of the Wild’s 3-0 victory.
With the Wild leading a tight, defensive game 1-0 on Ryan Hartman’s goal at 4:21 of the third, the Golden Knights were pressing for the tying goal. Top-line center Chandler Stephenson wired a shot through Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Vegas winger Alex Tuch and Minnesota goalie Cam Talbot to apparently tie the score at 8:55.
On-ice officials, however, conferred and ruled that Tuch was in the crease and interfered with Talbot’s ability to play the puck. DeBoer challenged, but it was denied, with officials ruling: “Vegas’ Alex Tuch impaired Cam Talbot’s ability to play his position in the crease prior to Chandler Stephenson’s goal.”
The crowd of 4,500 — limited by COVID-19 restrictions — roared in approval, sensing that the Wild was on its way to forcing Game 7 on Friday night in Las Vegas.
“You’re splitting hairs, and those have gone our way before,” DeBoer said, explaining his reasoning for challenging the play. “We felt it was worth the challenge that point in the game. Our penalty kill has been excellent all year.”
Golden Knights captain Mark Stone was on the ice for the play and agreed with his coach’s decision.
“It’s a tough play,” Stone said. “Tuchie was kind of getting held in the crease and couldn’t get out of there. Those have gone both ways, and you can’t argue it anymore. We’ve just got to get that penalty killed. It’s always worth a challenge, hoping you get it reversed.”
Said Wild coach Dean Evason: “What goes around comes around, right? We were holding our breath a little bit, you just never know.”
Wild winger Marcus Foligno was on the ice and said, “Before it happened, you could hear [a referee] saying, ‘Get out of the blue, get out of the blue.'”
With an unsuccessful replay challenge comes a delay-of-game penalty, and Vegas sent William Carrier to the box. The Wild would make DeBoer and the Golden Knights pay for the challenge, with Kevin Fiala firing a wrist shot past Fleury at 9:35 for a 2-0 Minnesota lead and the Wild’s first power-play goal of the series. More eruptions from the 4,500, who could see Game 7 on the horizon.
“It was a challenge that everyone felt we should take,” Vegas winger Reilly Smith said. “Teams are going to score on the power play if you give them too many opportunities. We’ve done a good job all series. Every now and then, they’re going to find holes and get some bounces, and they did tonight. We’ll be sure to be a little bit cleaner next game.”
The Wild kept up the pressure, and Nick Bjugstad delivered the dagger with a backhander past Fleury to complete a breakaway at 15:17 of the third for the 3-0 victory.
“We just didn’t play well enough in the third to win,” Stone said.