No. 3 Wild at No. 2 Golden Knights
9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, BSN, BSWI+
Best-of-7 series tied, 3-3
The Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights will decide their Stanley Cup First Round series at T-Mobile Arena on Friday in the first Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The winner will play the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, starting at Colorado on Sunday.
This will be the first Game 7 in Las Vegas since the Golden Knights joined the NHL in 2017-18. Home teams are 105-76 (.580) in Game 7s in NHL history.
But this will be the third time in three seasons the Golden Knights will play a Game 7 after leading a series 3-1. They lost to the San Jose Sharks 5-4 in overtime in the Western Conference First Round in 2019 and defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in the Western Conference Second Round last season. They’re 2-8 in their past 10 closeout games.
Vegas coach Peter DeBoer is 5-0 in Game 7s in his NHL career, the only coach in NHL history to win his first five Game 7s.
“The margins are so thin when you get to that point,” DeBoer said. “There isn’t a secret. All I can look back at is convincing your group that they’ve done the heavy lifting and just to go out and play and the preparation’s been done. Nothing they’re going to do today is going to change that, and go out and enjoy the moment, because, I mean, frankly, where else would you rather be?”
The Wild are 3-0 in Game 7s, and each win has come on the road. But this will be their first Game 7 since 2014. They’re trying to win a series after trailing 3-1 for the third time but the first time since 2003.
“I think this is what everyone was dreaming of when they were a kid,” Minnesota forward Joel Eriksson Ek said. “Going into a Game 7 is going to be really fun. I mean, this is what everyone wants to do. You want to play important games.”
Here are 3 keys for Game 7:
1. Vegas lineup
The Golden Knights hope defenseman Brayden McNabb and forward Ryan Reaves can play after each missed Game 6 because of NHL COVID-19 protocols. McNabb often is matched against top opponents. Reaves is Vegas’ most physical player. He was on the ice for Vegas’ optional morning skate and was removed from NHL COVID-19 protocol Friday.
“We’re still waiting on some subsequent results,” DeBoer said after an optional morning skate. “The process to confirm a positive or unconfirm a positive, that it’s a negative, is multiple tests one way or another. So we’re still waiting on some of that.”
Forward Max Pacioretty, who led the Golden Knights with 24 goals during the regular season, has not played in the series after missing the last six games of the regular season due to an undisclosed injury. DeBoer has called him a game-time decision throughout the series.
Tomas Nosek also will be a game-time decision. The forward has been out the past four games because of an undisclosed injury.
2. Breaking through
It has been hard enough to get a shot on goal in this series. In the regular season, Vegas led the NHL in blocked shots with 843 and Minnesota was second with 825. In the playoffs, the Wild lead the League with 120 and the Golden Knights are fifth with 96.
Then you have to get a shot past the goalies. Cam Talbot of the Wild and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights each is 3-3, and they have almost identical statistics. Talbot has a 2.01 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage; Fleury has a 1.66 GAA and a .935 save percentage.
This quote came from Minnesota coach Dean Evason but could have come from DeBoer: “You’ve get to get pucks there. You’ve got to get bodies there. The more he can’t see clearly, the more opportunity, the better chance we’re going to have to score on him because he is an elite goaltender.”
3. First goal
It hasn’t mattered much in this series. Minnesota is 2-2 when scoring first, Vegas is 1-1.
But it could matter in Game 7. The team that scores first is 135-46 (.746) in Game 7s in NHL history.
It seems especially important to the Golden Knights, who have been shut out twice in the series, including 3-0 in Game 6, and could ride the momentum of the home crowd with an early goal. DeBoer has mentioned the importance of the first goal multiple times, because it can force the opponent to open up.
“It’s tough to play from behind, I think, against either team,” he said.
Wild projected lineup
Jordan Greenway — Joel Eriksson Ek — Marcus Foligno
Kirill Kaprizov — Victor Rask — Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise — Ryan Hartman — Kevin Fiala
Nick Bonino — Nico Sturm — Nick Bjugstad
Ryan Suter — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Ian Cole — Calen Addison
Scratched: Kyle Rau, Brad Hunt
Injured: Marcus Johansson (broken arm), Carson Soucy (upper body)
Golden Knights projected lineup
Alex Tuch — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark — Nicolas Roy — Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier — Patrick Brown — Ryan Reaves
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Nick Holden — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud
Scratched: Dylan Coghlan, Jiri Patera, Peyton Krebs
Injured: Max Pacioretty (undisclosed), Tomas Nosek (undisclosed)
COVID-19 Protocol: Brayden McNabb
Soucy, a defenseman, is progressing but will not play. … Krebs was removed from COVID-19 protocol but the forward likely will not play. … Golden Knights forward Cody Glass was assigned to Henderson of the American Hockey League on Thursday but could be recalled prior to the game. He had two shots on goal in 12:59 of ice time in Game 6.