Can the Wild’s recent tear outlast another surging squad?
The team will soon find out.
This season’s first marquee matchup is on deck, a clash on Saturday with one of the NHL’s other current titans in the Maple Leafs.
“We’re excited,” Ryan Hartman said. “We can’t wait. They’re a hot team. They’ve got some really good players there. It’s gonna be a really good test for us.”
Each side will put a five-game win streak on the line, the Wild arriving at that season-best run after dismissing another team 5-2 – this time the Devils on Thursday in front of 16,112 at Xcel Energy Center for the Wild’s fourth straight game with at least four goals and 13th overall.
Only the Panthers (14) have more such outcomes.
“We’re having a great time,” Hartman said. “But we’re playing the right way, and that’s why it’s happening. We’re playing underneath the puck. We’re playing smart defensively.
“Overall, the way we’ve been playing is how we want to play.”
Toronto’s top line featuring Auston Matthews, who led the NHL in goals last season, is rolling, but so is the Wild’s best trio.
Hartman, Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello combined for seven points in Zuccarello’s return to the lineup after a slash to the hand last Friday against the Jets caused him to miss the next two games.
“It’s always easier to play when the team is winning and you’re getting points, you’re scoring and the team’s doing really well. You don’t grip the stick as tight. You play better hockey. So, of course, it feels good.”
On his 10th shot of the game, Hartman scored his team-leading 13th goal to wrap up a three-point night that matched Kaprizov’s output while Zuccarello contributed an assist.
The 10 shots by Hartman are tied for the third most by a Wild player in a game.
He and his linemates had 16 total shots (24 shot attempts) and delivered the first goal 8 minutes, 49 seconds into the first period when Hartman sent a cross-ice pass to Kaprizov, who fended off a New Jersey defender before lifting the puck past goaltender Mackenize Blackwood.
“He’s playing with such pace,” coach Dean Evason said of Kaprizov. “When he does that, he must be so hard to defend.”
Wild backup goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, who was making a second consecutive start, earned the other assist on the play, the first of his career in a 29-save victory. He’s the 10th goaltender in Wild history to record an assist.
Only 2:20 later, the Wild scored again when Rem Pitlick scooped up a turnover and wired the puck behind Blackwood for his fifth goal.
In the second period, that lead grew to three on Kaprizov’s second goal of the game, a centering feed that hit Blackwood’s pad and bounced off Damon Severson’s helmet before tumbling into the net at 2:28.
On the next shift, the Devils began to chip away at their deficit on a rising shot from Ryan Graves at 2:52.
New Jersey moved even closer 7:40 into the period on a breakaway goal from Tomas Tatar, but the Wild reclaimed control before the second ended.
And guess who was behind the momentum swing.
Kaprizov handed off to Hartman, and his shot led to a rebound that Dmitry Kulikov pounced on at the side of the net to put the Wild ahead 4-2 at 10:27. Blackwood finished with 33 saves; neither power play capitalized, with the Wild 0-for-4 and Devils (0-for-3).
That assist by Hartman sealed his fourth multipoint game of the season, only the fourth time as an NHLer he has posted back-to-back multipoint performances. He has eight points during a career-longest five-game point streak after his shot with 3:55 to go clipped the post en route to the back of the net.
As for Kaprizov, he registered his fifth career multigoal game and first of the season. It was also the fourth time he’s had at least three points in a game this season. Only three players have more: Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (9) and Connor McDavid (6) and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (6).
Kaprizov also has 10 points during a season-high four-game point streak and league-best 17 since Nov. 18.
“It’s always easier to play when the team is winning and you’re getting points, you’re scoring and the team’s doing really well,” Kaprizov said in Russian through an interpreter. “You don’t grip the stick as tight. You play better hockey. So, of course, it feels good.”
Next up, a litmus test in the season’s highest-profile game to date.
“They’ve got a good hockey club,” Evason said of the Leafs. “We’ve got a good hockey club. It’ll be a good game.”