ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Wild star rookie Kirill Kaprizov has felt the game change during the team's first-round playoffs series with the Vegas Golden Knights.
After taking the NHL by storm with 27 goals and 24 assists during the 56-game regular season, Kaprizov did not score his first goal of the playoffs until Monday’s must-win Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena. He entered Game 6 on Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center with a goal and an assist in the first five playoff games of his career.
Though some of that ineffectiveness has been a result of puck luck — or lack thereof — most of it has stemmed from the fact that the 24-year-old Russian winger has had to battle through some extremely physical play that the Golden Knights have directed at him on both ends of the ice.
Whether it’s been an ugly cross-check in the back from defenseman Zach Whitecloud near the boards, or a simple face wash from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo after the whistle, the Golden Knights have skillfully toed the line between clean and dirty as a way to get into Kaprizov’s head.
“That’s hockey,” Kaprizov said through a Russian translator before Wednesday’s game. “It’s part of the game. You’ve just got to play through it.”
Asked about the increased physical play, Kaprizov refused to use it as an excuse. He also wouldn’t entertain any questions about the officiating throughout the playoffs so far.
“I don’t like to speak any ill will,” Kaprizov said. “We have a job as players to play. That’s what we focus on. But yeah, overall, the game has definitely gotten a little bit more challenging since we’ve gotten into the playoffs.”
That’s made it more difficult for Kaprizov to make an impact on a nightly basis. It also has motivated him to be better moving forward. Though it’s on everyone to score goals in the playoffs, Kaprizov admitted he feels a sense of responsibility to do it at a higher rate than he has so far.
“I would definitely say there’s a little bit of that,” he said. “Obviously when we don’t win the game, I always question myself, like, ‘Did I do everything I could? Should I have scored? Should I have done this? Should I have done that?’ There’s definitely a little bit of that. You have to push through it.”
Wild prospect Matt Boldy participated in the team’s morning skate ahead of Game 6, and while coach Dean Evason said the 20-year-old was available to play, he refused to tip his hand in the hours leading up to puck drop.
After signing his entry-level contract on March 31, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound winger dominated with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. He recorded 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in 14 games, proving to be a force up and down the ice.
As for Boldy potentially making his NHL debut in an elimination game, Evason clearly wasn’t opposed to the idea.
“At the end of the day, it’s hockey,” the coach said. “You go out there and hopefully have the right mindset to play and have fun. You try to score. You try to not let the other team score.”
After making his NHL postseason debut in Game 5, rookie defenseman Calen Addison was back in the lineup for Game 6. He earned that opportunity after impressing the coaching staff in Monday’s game at T-Mobile Arena. Not only did Addison look solid alongside fellow defenseman Ian Cole, he recorded an assist in the game, too.
“It was awesome,” Addison said. “To go into a game in an elimination game like that in a place like Las Vegas is insane. That place is rocking. You can barely hear yourself talk. To get put into that (situation) was awesome. It’s something I’ll never forget, for sure.”