EDMONTON — Alex Stalock and an unyielding Minnesota Wild defence frustrated the Vancouver Canucks’ top shooters en route to a 3-0 win to open their NHL qualifying series Sunday.
Stalock’s first career playoff victory was a 28-save shutout, which he credited to teammates not giving up the middle lane to the Canucks or giving Vancouver many clean entries into their zone.
“Our guys did an unbelievable job staying with them,” Stalock said.
Jared Spurgeon scored twice, including an empty-netter, and assisted on Kevin Fiala’s goal. The Edmontonian became the first Wild defenceman to record a three-point game in the playoffs.
Minnesota scored a pair of power-play goals, going 2-for-4 with a man advantage. Eric Staal assisted on both of them.
Outshot 31-28, Vancouver mustered just four shots on Stalock in the third period and none on their lone man advantage of the game with 3:40 to play.
“We’ve got to get to the inside and make it hard for their goalie,” Canucks defenceman Alex Edler said. “Usually in the playoffs, it comes down to special teams and tonight we lost that battle.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Tuesday.
In the first playoff start of his nine-year career, Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom stopped 28 shots in the loss.
Matt Dumba raised his fist on the Wild’s bench during both the Canadian and American national anthems Sunday.
The Regina defenceman, who is half-Filipino, explained earlier in the day he intends to do that for the rest of the NHL’s restart from the COVID-19 pandemic in homage to former Wild forward J.T. Brown.
Brown did the same during the “Star Spangled Banner” in 2017 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning to protest police brutality and racism.
With the NHL’s blessing, Dumba made a speech at Rogers Place centre ice stressing the need for social and racial justice prior to Saturday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild haven’t won a playoff series since 2015, which was also the last year the Canucks saw the post-season.
Vancouver (36-27-6) was the seventh seed in the Western Conference, while Minnesota (35-27-7) was 10th.
“For the first game, how we played, you’d love to say it was a great road game because we were the road team,” Wild head coach Dean Evason said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t play offence or didn’t try to play offence. When we had an opportunity to defend we did that hard.”
Halfway through the second period, Staal fed Spurgeon a cross-ice pass from the boards. Spurgeon whipped a low shot under both the left leg of a diving Edler and Markstrom’s left pad.
Three seconds into an Edler tripping penalty, Fiala scored from the high slot at 2:50 of the first period.
Markstrom got a piece of Fiala’s snapshot, but not enough as the puck trickled behind him.
“I thought we had some good looks, obviously their goaltender played well. Just got to put the puck in the net,” Vancouver captain Bo Horvat said.
“It’s a five-game series for a reason. It’s far from over.”
Parise’s assist on Fiala’s goal gave him the all-time franchise playoff record of 18. The 36-year-old Minnesotan also holds Wild playoff records in goals (14) and points (32).
Vancouver squandered a chance to go on the power play late in the first period.
Markstrom was summoned to the bench on a pending holding penalty to Parise, but a sixth Canuck prematurely jumped on the ice to negate the man advantage.
Vancouver’s Micheal Ferland and Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno fought less than two minutes after the opening faceoff.
Ferland and Ryan Hartman tangled at Minnesota’s bench late in the third. A seated Hartman appeared to grab Ferland’s stick and the latter retaliated by spearing Hartman. Both served minor penalties.
Unlike Scotiabank Arena in Toronto’s Eastern Conference hub tournament, fake crowd noise isn’t pumped into Edmonton’s empty Rogers Place.
Expletives, exhortations to teammates and appeals to officials were clearly audible. One official responded “He knocked you down, you knocked him down.”