Everyone is going to talk about Kevin Fiala’s game-winner and for good reason. It was an absolute rocket of a one-timer that lifted the Wild to a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
As teammate Nick Bjugstad put it, “Whenever he’s shooting it, he’s got a chance to score. I wouldn’t like to be a goalie when he’s firing it.”
That said, coach Dean Evason was impressed with Fiala long before he scored the game-winner. A couple of weeks after Evason benched Fiala for his careless play with the puck, the 24-year-old sniper looks to have fixed those issues.
“I don’t think he’s had a turnover the last three hockey games,” Evason said. “When that happens with Kevin, everything else is going to fall into place.”
That’s proven to be the case over the past couple of weeks.
Since being benched during an April 17 contest against the San Jose Sharks, Fiala has taken his game to another level. He has five goals and six assists over the past seven games, giving the Wild a gamebreaker to go along with superstar rookie Kirill Kaprizov.
“It’s always fun watching those skill guys play,” said Nick Bonino, who has known Fiala since their days playing together with the Nashville Predators. “He’s got a ton of skill, and he makes great plays. But I was happiest with Kevin’s hit tonight. He lays out (Brayden Schenn), one of their strongest guys. Those are the plays I’m pretty pumped to see.”
Though his coaches and teammates chose to highlight other parts of Fiala’s game after the most recent win, the game-winner itself was a thing of beauty that deserves its moment in the spotlight.
With a puck floating in the neutral zone, Fiala singlehandedly ignited the rush by skillfully passing behind the back to himself. As he entered the offensive zone, Fiala saw Mats Zuccarello flying in off the bench and hit him with a pinpoint pass. In that moment, Fiala pulled his stick back and waited patiently for Zuccarello to pass the puck back.
Jordan Binnington never had a chance. The puck was in the back of the net before the Blues’ goaltender could even react.
Asked about the sequence after the game, Evason noted that even though it was a highly skilled play by Fiala, it was also a super smart play given the situation. There was very little risk of a turnover, because even if the puck doesn’t end up directly on Fiala’s tape like it did, it’s still going toward the offensive zone.
“It looks like a risky play, but it’s not,” Evason said. “He doesn’t beat the guy between his stick and his skates. He doesn’t beat the guy trying to go through him. The puck still goes around him and makes it difficult for the guy to get a stick on puck.That’s hopefully Kevin’s maturity level going forward, because clearly he can make plays like he did.”