It is cliché to say that “goaltending wins or loses you playoff games.” But this applies to the 2021 playoff Minnesota Wild. The only way they advance this year is if their goaltending steals games for them.
Cam Talbot stopped 38 shots on Monday night to preserve a 4-2 win for the Wild, extending the series to a Game 6 on Wednesday night in St. Paul. Talbot was also the player of the game in Minnesota’s other win in the series, stopping all 42 shots in a Game 1 overtime shutout of the Vegas Golden Knights. Sandwiched in between the two stellar performances from Talbot have been average performances where he doesn’t lose the game, but he doesn’t win the game for them either.
The takeaway from this is pretty clear: Talbot will be taking Minnesota as far as it can go in the playoffs.
After a stellar first period on Monday night, the Wild reverted into a play that was more consistent with their effort in Games 1 (despite the win), 3, and 4, where Vegas just obliterated them in all facets of the game. They played on their heels, and only a great performance in goal from Talbot has kept this series from being a four-game sweep for the high-powered Golden Knights.
The sentiment from Cole is great and is probably underselling the performance of Talbot a bit. But still trailing in the series, now 3-2, the Wild need more of this, and one has to wonder how sustainable it is to rely on getting other-worldly performances from your goaltender.
Yeah, that usually does not end well.
If you are looking for optimism heading into Game 6, hope that there can be on-the-fly adjustments made to the Wild tactically so that they can keep their foot on the gas should they find themselves in the lead again. There have been none through five games, but one can hope.
Coaching has badly favored Vegas in this series, and it has shown through the first five games. No doubt, adjustments made by the Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer after the first period in Game 5 led to their stronghold on the play over the next two periods, including a dominating second period in which the Knights outshot the Wild, 22-1.
One shot and three total shot attempts by the Wild in that second period? Yes, you read that correctly — three. The same total you can usually get on one good shift lasting 30 seconds. Minnesota needed a whole 20 minutes to do that.
“We got hemmed in our zone quite a bit there in the second period,” said Talbot after the game. “Give our guys credit. They were dog-tired out there. Some guys were out there for two, three icings in a row and couldn’t get off. But we never quit.”
If Talbot had pointed the finger at his teammates there, it would have been hard to blame him. But he took the high road and went on to praise the guys in front of him for sticking with it.
However, it all comes back to Talbot, who made many crucial saves in the final 40 minutes to secure the win and a trip back to St. Paul for Game 6.
This is what the Wild will need in Game 6 if they want to go back and try their luck in Vegas one last time this postseason. A great performance in goal from Talbot, while being able to capitalize on their limited chances at the other end. It has been clear from Game 1. This is how Minnesota will win the series.
Is it sustainable long-term? Absolutely not. Is it possible to do this over two games and somehow steal a series? Absolutely. Just look at some more recent postseason defeats by the Wild to see what a hot goalie can do to you.
If Talbot can be that hot goalie, another date with the Colorado Avalanche could be on the horizon. But there are still two games before we have to worry about that.