Garret Sparks started his second game since being recalled by the Leafs to the big team and he was called upon early in this tilt to make some big saves. Just under five minutes into the game, Morgan Rielly got caught facing away from an oncoming rush, and the Wild got a fantastic chance as Rielly's uncovered man made a great pass to a trailer for a shot on goal. Sparks made the initial save, but the puck sat free in the crease before Rielly chipped it out of danger.
The next 10 minutes of the period progressed rather uneventfully but with enough pace to keep things interesting. This Leafs team can sure skate.
Perhaps the Leafs' best chance of the opening frame came on a great pass and one-timer from Kasperi Kapanen to William Nylander, and it forced Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk to make a hermetically-sealed sliding save to keep the game scoreless. If Nylander had caught the puck squarely it may well have been the game's first goal.
The Nazem Kadri line came knocking on the door again with 52 seconds left in the first, as a long shot from the point yielded a juicy rebound that Kadri shovelled back on net. There was a scramble to find the puck, and although it was never entirely frozen, the referee lost sight of it and blew the play dead.
As the first third of the game elapsed, the Wild held an 11-10 lead in shots.
The second period began with the Leafs on the penalty kill as Matt Hunwick took a delay of game penalty with just seconds left in the first, but the Leafs killed it off without any dangerous chances hitting the net.
The first goal of the game off an absolute blast from the point by none other than Jake Gardiner at 7:33 of the second, following a great shift by Colin Greening, Ben Smith, and Brooks Laich. With the forwards creating havoc below the goal line for Minnesota's defence, the puck eventually fluttered out to the point on a missed pass and Gardiner leaned into the puck and put it perfectly into the top corner. Greening and Laich were initially awarded the assists, and the assist was Laich's first as a Maple Leaf, but it was later determined that Laich did not get the assist and so the scoring was changed.
The Wild tied the game less than 4 minutes later with Frank Corrado in the box for hooking. Mikko Koivu (who only had 1 point in his previous 6 games) came out of the corner with the puck, and sent a pass out front of the net to Zach Parise, who was well covered by Hunwick. Unfortunately, the puck caromed off Hunwick's skate, off his body, and then looped over the shoulder of Sparks.
After two, the Leafs lead on the shot count 16-15, and did well in terms of shot attempts, too:
Leafs holding their own right now. Cool. #MINvsTOR https://t.co/RqFITrkvxZ pic.twitter.com/xw96fe3sxC— hockeystats.ca (@HockeyStatsCa) March 4, 2016
Through the first half of the third period, the Wild began to take stronger and stronger hold of the game, with good chances coming more and more frequently, with Jonas Brodin eventually hitting the post.
Finally, the dam burst, as Leo Komarov took a penalty for interference off a faceoff, and the Wild power play clicked for the second time in the game. Tomas Vanek sent a fantastic saucer pass over the well-placed stick of Michael Grabner, and Mikael Granlund snapped a wrister over the shoulder of Sparks, who had successfully crossed the crease into position, but only got a piece of the puck on his shoulder as it went in.
Uncharacteristically, Mike Babcock took an undisciplined unsportsmanlike penalty for some unheard comments to the referees after the goal, and the Leafs headed immediately back to the penalty kill and were fortunate to kill it off.
In the final two minutes, the Leafs poured on the pressure with Sparks pulled and the extra attacker on the ice. Kadri had two great chances to tie the game, but the puck just couldn't be coaxed into the net. One was after a scramble in the crease where the puck stayed loose and he nearly banked it off Dubnyk and in from behind the net, and the other was off a great feed into the slot where he simply missed the net.
All in all, the team didn't look awful, though the Wild were certainly not playing their best hockey, and Garret Sparks was luck not to have one or two more get by him. The tank rolls on.