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Wild earn statement win, defeat Maple Leafs in a shootout

Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov converted in the shootout, Cam Talbot made a couple of saves, and the Wild walked away with a highly entertaining win.

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Minnesota Wild forward Jordan Greenway (18) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 at Xcel Energy Center. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

For about 30 minutes on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild looked the part of a Stanley Cup contender. They went blow for blow with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and after an offensive explosion midway through the game, found themselves on the verge of a blowout win.

But the Maple Leafs are a Stanley Cup contender, too, and showed it as they effortlessly erased a three-goal deficit in a matter of minutes.

Maybe it was better the way. This heavyweight bout deserved to go the distance.

In a marquee matchup that some were prematurely teasing as a Stanley Cup preview, the Wild and the Maple Leafs proved that it would be a heck of a series. It felt like playoff hockey for 65 minutes as both teams flashed their offensive prowess early on, then refused to give an inch down the stretch.

Honestly, it’s unfortunate that such an awesome game had to be decided in a shootout. In the end, though, Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov converted in the shootout, Cam Talbot made a couple of saves, and the Wild walked away with a highly entertaining 4-3 win.

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Asked if he though the Wild made a statement with the win over the Maple Leafs, Matt Dumba responded, “I think we did.” He mentioned how the game was being played on Hockey Night in Canada, which meant way more eyeballs than usual.

“We don’t really get too much attention (from the) outside here in Minnesota,” Dumba said. “For people to see us compete against the top teams, and win, I think it’s huge.”

“Yeah it’s great,” Jordan Greenway added. “I think we’re definitely showing everyone and ourselves that we can play with anyone.”

After back-and-forth first period that proved both teams are very much on the same playing field, Greenway gave the Wild a lead with 24 seconds left in the frame. He gathered a loose puck near the crease after a big blast by Dumba, then calmly wired a shot into the back of the net.

“Might have felt like we were feeling each other out a little bit,” Marcus Foligno said. “Toward the end of that period we felt really comfortable with our game.”

That showed as the Wild started the second period with a flurry, getting a goal from Zuccarello to make it 2-0, then a goal from Foligno to stretch the lead to 3-0 thanks to a fortuitous bounce in front.

That’s when the ageless Jason Spezza took over for the Maple Leafs.

The 38-year-old center started the rally with an extremely fluky goal to cut the deficit to 3-1. His initial shot came from behind the net, deflected off Jordie Benn, then whizzed past Cam Talbot top shelf. Not long after that Spezza scored a much more traditional goal from the slot to make it 3-2.

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The onslaught continued a minute and a half later as star center Auston Matthews helped the Maple Leafs tie the game at 3-3 on the power play. All of a sudden the game was very much up in the air as both teams headed to the locker room.

“We talked to the group,” coach Dean Evason said. “We made some mistakes. We allowed them momentum. And it bit us. The biggest message was we’re even, right? We were even. We were not down.”

That set the stage for the third period where the Maple Leafs took a couple of penalties early in the frame to gift the Wild an extended 5-on-3. They failed to convert on the power play despite a handful of chances, and while both teams flirted with goals down stretch, the game went into overtime.

Neither team scored in extra session either and the game went into a shootout where the Wild ultimately earned a statement win to put the rest of the league on notice.

“When you have these games where there’s top teams coming in, you’ve got bring your ‘A’ game,” Foligno said. “There’s a lot of talk about this game going into it. It’s nice to come out on top. Everyone was ready for it and we had a really good effort tonight.”

This team is for real. There’s no doubt about that.

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) is defended by Minnesota Wild forward Jordan Greenway (18) during the first period on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 at Xcel Energy Center. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

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