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Kirill Kaprizov steps up to get Wild hard-fought point against Avalanche

“I’m very, very proud of the way we competed,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “If that could have ended in a tie, that would have been better. But we did enough things to have success.”

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) controls the puck in overtime against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, at Ball Arena in Denver.
Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today Sports
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DENVER — The thing about star players is they tend to show up when their team needs them most. That’s what winger Kirill Kaprizov did for the Minnesota Wild on Monday afternoon at Ball Arena.

After a controversial call gave the Colorado Avalanche the lead late in the game, the 24-year-old Russian promptly tied the score 3-3 to help the Wild force overtime. When they fell behind, there was no sulking on the bench from Kaprizov and his teammates, no feeling sorry for themselves.

Instead, the Wild responded with arguably their best shift of the game, earned an offensive zone draw in the process, and Kaprizov scored seconds after Ryan Hartman won the faceoff.

“I felt like my head was going to pop off,” Wild coach Dean Evason said, crediting his team for its response after the Avalanche took the lead in the third period. “They held their composure. We yelled a few times and caught ourselves as a team. Things could go real sideways, and they didn’t.”

Though the Wild ultimately lost 4-3 in a shootout, the fact that they got a point out of the matinee felt like a win.

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NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
Minnesota Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen (34) makes a save against Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) in the shootout Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in Denver.
Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today Sports

“I’m very, very proud of the way we competed,” Evason said. “If that could have ended in a tie, that would have been better. But we did enough things to have success.”

Not surprisingly, Kaprizov was at the epicenter of the Wild comeback, scoring a pair of tying goals in the final 20 minutes. He always seems to shine brighter when the spotlight is on him.

“He’s on a mission every time he goes out there,” winger Jordan Greenway said. “When it comes down to the end, and there’s a little more pressure, he steps up, for sure. He’s been doing really good for us.”

Asked why he’s so effective in winning time, Kaprizov made it sound like it’s no big deal, replying, “You just focus more and play better in those situations.” That answer is actually fitting considering how easy he makes the game look at times.

If Kaprizov was the Wild’s star on Monday, goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and winger Kevin Fiala deserve credit as best supporting actors. They helped keep the Wild in the game when it could have gone the other way in a hurry.

With starting goaltender Cam Talbot still out with a lower-body injury, Kahkonen got the nod once again for the Wild, and he continued to shine between the pipes.

While he allowed a pair of goals in the first period, those were largely due to the Wild taking a couple of careless penalties in succession.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) controls the puck against Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (24) and center Frederick Gaudreau (89) in overtime Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today Sports

Less than 30 seconds into the 5-on-3, winger Mikko Rantanen collected a loose puck on the doorstep, and promptly put the Avalanche up 1-0. Then, a couple of minutes later, rookie center Alex Newhook extended the Avalanche lead to 2-0 with a blast from the slot.

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“You have to try and stay out of the penalty box as much as you can against these guys,” Kahkonen said. “We know that, and I think from then on, we did a good job of playing hard and playing the right way.”

After catching their breath at intermission, the Wild started the second period with a flurry, getting a goal from Fiala roughly 30 seconds in to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The tenor of the game changed midway through the second period when Greenway inadvertently made contact with goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the crease. While he initially stayed in the game, Kuemper left shortly thereafter in favor of backup goaltender Pavel Francouz.

“I haven’t looked at it,” Greenway said. “I think he was maybe out of the crease a little bit. I didn’t even really try to intentionally give it to him. I just skated through and ended up clipping him.”

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Regardless of intention, Kuemper did not return to the game, and the Wild took advantage by peppering Francouz with shot after shot. It paid dividends early in the third period when Kaprizov finished off a pass from winger Mats Zuccarello to tie the score 2-2.

That set the stage for some controversy in the final minutes as MacKinnon scored to put the Avalanche in front 3-2. It was initially ruled no goal on the ice, and while replay never actually showed the puck crossing the goal line, the officials seemingly used logic to overturn the original call.

Though the Wild clearly did not agree with the officials, they used their frustration as fuel, and Kaprizov tied the score 3-3 less than a minute later. He launched himself full speed into the glass after scoring the goal, clearly excited to be a part of the

“It was good,” said Kaprizov, who admitted he wasn’t happy with his play in the first two periods of the game. “I was really excited to get those.”

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Neither team scored in overtime, then in the shootout, Zuccarello, Fiala, and Kaprizov failed to score for the Wild. Still, the Wild walked away with their heads held high as they boarded the team charter back to Minnesota.

Asked if he was impressed with the way his team forced overtime in the end, Fiala replied, “Not impressed because I know my team.” He added that the Wild had no doubt on the bench that they could tie the game.

“We never quit no matter what,” Fiala said. “That’s a great thing about us.”

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