Wild star Kevin Fiala has been bottled up by Blues. Can he overcome his frustration?
He finished the regular season with a career high 33 goals, 52 assists, and 85 points.
Much was made about Kevin Fiala’s hot streak heading into the NHL playoffs. He was an absolute force for the Minnesota Wild toward the end of the regular season, making a highlight-reel play seemingly every night, and finishing with a career high 33 goals, 52 assists and 85 points.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen that many guys go on a tear like that,” general manager Bill Guerin said a couple of weeks ago. “He’s just been a one-man wrecking crew.”
Still, the biggest test for Fiala was always going to be whether he could carry that confidence into the playoffs. He was ineffective against the Vegas Golden Knights last postseason, recording a goal and an assist during the series as the Wild bowed out in the first round this time a year ago.
It has been a similar story for Fiala this postseason as he’s been bottled up by the St. Louis Blues through the first four games of the opening-round series. He has no goals to his name with the series tied 2-2 and his lone assist came thanks to a late scoring change.
“They play pretty tight,” Fiala said after the Wild suffered a 5-2 loss in Game 4 on Sunday in St. Louis. “Not a lot of space out there.”
Asked if he was frustrated with himself, Fiala took a deep breath before simply replying, “Yeah.”
There might as well have been a million words packed into that short response from the 25-year-old forward from Switzerland. He was clearly biting his tongue so not to get himself riled up by his lack of production.
This time was supposed to be different.
Not only did Fiala enter the playoffs playing the best hockey of his life, he had finally figured out how to managed his emotions on and off the ice. That’s something Fiala prided himself on after struggling with such things early in his career.
Now, instead of overthinking a missed scoring chance for an entire game, or exasperatedly staring skyward after not converting on a shot from in close, Fiala has shown the ability to move on quickly when things aren’t going his way. He will need to tap into some of that now with Wild-Blues series hanging in the balance.
The next chance for Fiala to respond comes in Game 5 on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, and man, the Wild could certainly use him.
“Well, frustrated or not, it’s a new game,” Fiala said. “New game. New chances.”
There were some positives from the final 20 minutes of Game 4 that give Fiala some confidence heading into Game 5. After being kept off the scoring sheet to that point, he assisted on Matt Boldy’s goal that cut into the big deficit.
“I felt like after that goal we got going a little bit,” Fiala said. “Hopefully we can keep it up.”
The combination of Freddy Gaudreau centering Fiala and Boldy proved to be a dynamic line for the Wild late in the regular season. Most nights, that line’s production was on par with the top line of Ryan Hartman centering Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello.
“We definitely know that we can help our other guys out a little bit more,” Boldy said. “We have other guys scoring goals. Obviously, it’s not always going to be perfect and go our way. We’ve got to find a way to be better and take the momentum we created and use it to our advantage. We have to be better, for sure.”
If anyone has seen Fiala grow as a player, it is coach Dean Evason. They were together with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League in earlier times, and thus, Evason saw the worst side of Fiala when it came to managing his emotions.
Does he think Fiala can overcome his frustration?
“We’ll see,” the coach said. “That’s his challenge. That’s everyone’s challenge, right?. It’s not one guy, it’s the Minnesota Wild that didn’t get to our game quick enough.”
As Evason noted, the Wild as a whole looked good down the stretch against the Blues, as did Fiala and the rest of his linemates.
“It was just a little too late,” Evason said. “We need to get to it from the drop of the puck.”
Sometimes all it takes for Fiala to get going is to see the puck hit the back of the net once. He has proven in the past that he can get hot in hurry. Could that be the case?
“Maybe,” Fiala said. “Let’s see.”