Marc-André Fleury has played over 900 games in the NHL and over 150 more in the playoffs.
He is a future Hall of Famer with three Stanley Cups and a Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
But after making his debut in the Wild’s crease following a splashy trade from rival Chicago, he experienced a first.
The ‘Flower’ goaltender picked up a bouquet on the ice as he performed a celebratory twirl after the Wild’s thrilling 3-2 overtime rally against the Blue Jackets on Saturday in front of 19,089 at the Xcel Energy Center, a result which commemorated Fleury’s arrival with the Wild’s fifth straight win.
“I felt like a figure skater,” he said.
Fleury was rightly in the spotlight, but he had company.
Captain Jared Spurgeon capitalized 1 minute and 24 seconds into overtime after Kirill Kaprizov scored twice, including the equalizer late in the third period, to climb to second place for most points in a single season from the Wild with 80.
Trailing 2-1 and with Fleury on the bench for an extra forward and just 1:03 left in the third period, Kaprizov fired a shot into traffic for his team-leading 35th goal and third total in the last two games.
As a result, he passed Brian Rolston for second place in points and is just three points away from equaling Marian Gaborik’s record of 83. Kaprizov is also just seven behind the goalscoring record (42 ).
“The talent to push yourself, we’ve seen it through history that great players do that,” coach Dean Evason said. “They don’t necessarily score in 7-1 hockey games. They score in all situations, but especially in those close games they come forward and find a way. He’s a special player.”
It was the Wild’s 18th goal at 6-5, a franchise record that leads the NHL.
“Cam told me the team was really good at 6v5 so I was hoping for one,” said Fleury, who then made a key save against Patrik Laine shortly before Spurgeon’s goal. “But the guys played so well in the third. The whole period they worked hard and it felt like it was a matter of time. It was a big relief when they scored that goal.”
In overtime, Spurgeon slipped a backhand from Columbus keeper Elvis Merzlikins after accepting a deft pass from Kevin Fiala, Fiala’s second setup of the game. Merzlikins finished with 35 saves.
“My plan was to go around, make a move, and I saw both guys coming at me,” Fiala said. “Spurgey was alone, so I saw that pass to him.”
The win kept the Wild in second place in the Central Division, and the team has a three-point cushion on No. 3 St. Louis.
As for Fleury, he had 23 saves after the Wild acquired him from the Blackhawks for a second-round draft pick that could turn into the first round, a deal that indicates how focused the team is on the playoffs. playoffs.
“It’s our group,” Spurgeon said. “Keep pushing our game towards the playoffs, that’s what we’re doing.”
After receiving a loud ovation when introduced to the starting lineup, Fleury got off to an uneventful start despite the Wild going shorthanded less than a minute into the game. .
It wasn’t until after 4:45 a.m. that Fleury officially made his first save, which drew further cheers from the crowd.
Another roar came when the Wild took their first power play at 7:26 after Kaprizov tossed the puck down the goal line past Merzlikins.
With the move to Kaprizov for the goal, Mats Zuccarello set a new career high for him in assists at 45.
Zuccarello is also tied with Kaprizov for the team’s most assists, and they are the second group of Wild teammates to record 45+ assists in the same season; Mikael Granlund (46) and Ryan Suter (45) also accomplished the feat in 2017-18.
Overall, the Wild power play went 1-for-2 and Columbus was 0-for-2.
But like the last time the Wild faced the Blue Jackets earlier this month, a 3-2 shootout loss on March 11, the team struggled to separate and that opened the door to a rally in Columbus.
At 8:16 of the second, a bouncing puck eventually landed on Fleury’s right skate as he lay sideways; Blue Jackets’ Jake Bean was credited with the goal. Then, with 1:05 left in the period, Jakub Voracek converted on a center shot.
“We weren’t really happy with our second half, so we knew we had better,” Spurgeon said.
BOXSCORE: Wild 3, Columbus 2 (OT)
The Wild wasn’t just better; he dominated Columbus, a pressure that eventually culminated in goals from Kaprizov and Spurgeon for a turnover that not only kept the Wild pace going, but also kicked off Fleury’s Wild tenure with a victory.
“That’s all I wanted for the first game here,” he said. “So I was just happy to celebrate with the guys and keep that streak alive.”