Joel Eriksson Ek and the Minnesota Wild put on quite a show for the first full house at Xcel Energy Center in 19 months.
The Wild were overwhelmed with gratitude for their off-the-ice help, from start to finish.
Eriksson Ek had a hat trick, batting in an airborne puck to tie the game with 59 seconds remaining in regulation and winning it on a power play in overtime to stun the Winnipeg Jets 6-5 in a raucous home opener on Tuesday night.
Eriksson Ek scored the equalizer just 15 seconds after an empty-netter by Jets center Mark Scheifele was wiped out by an offside call on Kyle Connor that came from a replay challenge recommended by video coaches Jonas Plumb and T.J. Jindra.
“Neither one of them will take any credit if you talk to them, but it was a great call,” Wild head coach Dean Evason said.
Instead of taking a two-goal lead to the locker room, the Jets were suddenly on their heels as the Wild finished the third period with an 18-5 shots advantage.
“Just one of those things with a little attention to detail by me. Just stay onside and you win a game,” said Connor, who had two goals and an assist to fuel an eight-point night for Winnipeg’s new-look first line minus Blake Wheeler while the captain is sidelined by COVID-19.
Josh Morrissey was called for holding Kirill Kaprizov near the midpoint of overtime, giving the Wild a 4-on-3. Eriksson Ek scored on a 3-on-1 rush to beat Connor Hellebuyck, who has given up 14 goals in three losses to start the season.
“That’s the way hockey goes. It’s going to test you. It’s going to push you, but those guys have fight,” Scheifele said.
Hellebuyck stopped 38 shots. Cam Talbot made 25 saves for the Wild, none bigger than the denial of Logan Stanley on a 2-on-1 right before Eriksson Ek’s winner.
Mats Zuccarello had two goals and two assists, Marcus Foligno scored on a power play with 4:58 left in regulation and Kaprizov had three assists for the Wild in this spirited renewal of the Central Division rivalry with the Jets.
The Wild got goosebumps on the bench as the crowd roared approval during a third period stoppage, more than happy to have their fans fully behind them again. They played with an even deeper purpose than usual in honor of the late Tom Kurvers, their assistant general manager who died of cancer in June. The Wild played a tribute video for Kurvers before the game, and his presence was felt throughout the night.
“You’ve just got to believe that there’s a guardian angel over you tonight, and Tom really had our back,” Foligno said.
Wheeler, who tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss at least three more games. was replaced at right wing by Andrew Copp, who had a goal and two assists. Scheifele notched two assists.
Pierre-Luc Dubois had the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and Morrissey also scored for Winnipeg, which lost leads of 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 5-3.
“That’s a hard fought, good battle on the road,” coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ll take chunks of it, just not that last minute and a half.”
The first game between these teams in 653 days was as feisty and frenetic as ever, as if both sides were trying to make up for the lost time to the pandemic-tailored 2020-21 season that had the Jets facing only Canadian teams.
Kaprizov was penalized for roughing halfway through a Wild power play in the first period, and as soon as he returned from the box he began tussling with Dubois.
Right after Eriksson Ek sneaked a wraparound past Hellebuyck to tie the game at 2 shortly before the first intermission, Foligno and Brenden Dillon dropped the gloves. Foligno used a kung-fu-style jump kick to jump start the fight and skated off the ice to a rousing ovation.
Zuccarello was credited with the strangest goal of the game when an ill-fated poke check by Hellebuyck caused the puck to glance off Morrissey and tie the game at 3 late in the second period. The Wild nearly took the lead in the closing seconds when Jonas Brodin’s whack was smothered by Hellebuyck’s stomach. Ryan Hartman pushed it in, but the officials ruled the play dead and disallowed the goal.
“That’s the way a hockey game should be,” Zuccarrello said, “especially with the fans back.”
The Jets play Anaheim on Thursday in their home opener.
The Wild host Anaheim on Saturday, as the Ducks wrap up a four-game trip.