Kaprizov’s big game, Eriksson Ek injured and Hartman heats up: Key Wild takeaways vs. Coyotes

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There was no overtime needed Tuesday night, nor was there a gutsy goalie pull.

But the Minnesota Wild’s 4-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes was certainly closer than it needed to be.

Ryan Hartman gave the Wild the lead late in the second period, and Minnesota hung on from there, white-knuckling it until Kirill Kaprizov scored an empty netter with 2:32 to go; Marcus Foligno added another soon after to make this one look like a blowout. The Wild missed the net 24 times, struggling to pull away. But all that mattered was Minnesota continued to pick up points in a 4-0-1 stretch, hoping to keep pace with the Vegas Golden Knights for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference; the Wild entered the game six points back and now have 16 games to go.

The Wild need to take advantage of this soft spot in their schedule — the Coyotes have now lost 18 of their last 21 games — with the lottery-bound Anaheim Ducks coming to Xcel Energy Center on Thursday. The bad news for Minnesota is that top center Joel Eriksson Ek left the game early in the third period after getting hit into the boards by Nick Bjugstad; there was no initial update from the team. Kaprizov led the way with two goals and an assist. Marc-Andre Fleury, making his second straight sharp, was sharp again with 21 saves.

Hartman scored his second go-ahead goal in as many games and played one of his best games as of late. Getting that kind of secondary scoring will be critical as it’s been elusive for quite a while.

  • Ryan Hartman has scored a goal in each of his past two games — both go-ahead goals — after going 20 games without one.
  • Brock Faber has 38 points (six goals, 32 assists) and moved to within one point of Matt Boldy (15-24-39 in 2021-22) for the highest-single-season point total in Wild rookie history.
  • Fleury made his second straight start and stopped 21 of 22 shots. He’s 8-2 with a 2.13 goals against average and .921 save percentage in his last 12 appearances.
  • Bjugstad, the former Gopher and Wild forward, has four goals in two games in St. Paul this season.
  • The Coyotes have lost 18 of their last 21 games.

Eriksson Ek injured

Joel Eriksson Ek left Tuesday’s game early in the third period and headed down the tunnel after a hit against the boards by Bjugstad. Eriksson Ek is Minnesota’s most irreplaceable player, as shown in their first-round playoff loss to Dallas last spring. And Eriksson Ek is having a career season, especially offensively, with 29 goals. The top line has been buzzing the past month or so, so this would be a big blow. While Eriksson Ek was out, Marco Rossi moved up to the top line to take his place, with Hartman sliding up to the second-line center role. Touted center prospect Marat Khusnutdinov is nearing his debut so he could slot in up the middle as well.

Kaprizov comes through

The Wild’s top line, led by Kirill Kaprizov, continues to be a driving force in their push for a playoff spot. Kaprizov factored in each of Minnesota’s three goals. On the first one, coming six minutes into the game, the Wild were struggling to get the puck out of their own zone. Brock Faber, in a terrific shift, helped move the puck up the ice and eventually found Kaprizov, who buried a shot for his 32nd of the season. After Bjugstad tied the game midway through the second, Kaprizov delivered a slick cross-crease pass to Hartman for an easy slam-dunk-type shot. That one was a power-play goal, and second go-ahead goal in as many games for Hartman. But Kaprizov has been at his best down the stretch, and now has nine points in his last five games after going scoreless for three in a row.

Khusnutdinov close to debut

It appears Khusnutdinov could be making his NHL debut on Thursday. Khusnutdinov, 21, who had his first practice with the team Monday after Friday’s arrival from Russia, participated in the full morning skate Tuesday. Coach John Hynes had Khusnutdinov go through a regular game-day routine Tuesday, just to get acclimated, including the team meetings. Khusnutdinov didn’t do warmups because, as Hynes put it, the rookie wanted to save that for the night he actually debuts (and get the milestone solo lap). As for where Khusnutdinov slots in, and who comes out, remains to be seen. Hynes said the plan is for Khusnutdinov to play his natural position at center. Adam Beckman came out of the lineup Tuesday as Marcus Johansson was activated from IR and returned. Some candidates to be scratched for Khusnutdinov, assuming Eriksson Ek is OK, are Vinni Lettieri, Mason Shaw or Jacob Lucchini.

Three stars

1. Kirill Kaprizov, Wild — The star winger had two goals and an assist, including setting up the game-winner.
2. Ryan Hartman, Wild — Hartman had one of his better games in recent memory, racking up six shots and the go-ahead goal.
3. Brock Faber, Wild — The Calder Trophy candidate had a stellar all-around game with an assist and was plus-2 in 24:30, controlling both zones.

(Photo: Brad Rempel / USA Today)

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