ST PAUL, Minn — Kevin Fiala has often let his frustration show if not producing up to his star potential, and the Minnesota Wild left wing was in a tense mood after another flat performance in St. Louis Sunday.
Four games into the first round against the Blues with the teams tied at two games apiece, Fiala has not scored. After tallying a career-high 33 goals for the Wild in the regular season, the 25-year-old has one assist, 11 shots on goal and 14 penalty minutes in the series.
“They play pretty tight,” Fiala said after the 5-2 loss on Sunday. “Not a lot of space out there.”
Fiala and linemates Frederick Gaudreau and Matt Boldy got some momentum going late in Game 4, mojo that hopeful can carry over to Tuesday night in Minnesota.
“Frustrated or not, it’s a new game. If it's going or not, it’s a new game. We’re going to do everything we can to just refocus and clear the mind and forget this game and take the positive with us," Fiala said. "New game. New chances.”
With Fiala's contract expiring this summer, the salary cap-strapped Wild face a conundrum about whether to work out a hefty extension that would force another key player off the roster, or move on from Fiala in his prime.
Fair or not, Fiala's postseason performance will factor into the equation. Over seven games in the first round last year against Vegas, the skilled winger had just one goal and one assist after finishing the regular season on fire.
“He’s got a lot of ability, and he can really shoot the puck, but guys are battling,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “The guys are doing a pretty good job on them, but you've got to be aware of him.”
Wild coach Dean Evason and his staff planned a conversation with Fiala, Gaudreau and Boldy to reinforce the need to spend less time on the perimeter while in the offensive zone, and push the puck inside more often.
“This time of year, it’s not the tic-tac-toe stuff. It’s more of the straightforward stuff,” Evason said. “That’s how our hockey club plays, and that’s what they have to push themselves to do.”
Fortunately for Fiala and the Wild, their ultimate game-breaker, Kirill Kaprizov - who set the franchise record with 47 goals this season - has five of their 13 goals in the series. Joel Eriksson Ek, who was fourth on the team in scoring, has three goals.
The heightened scrutiny of the playoffs, with every game on national television, can make a scoring slump seem worse than it actually is. All of the game's greatest offensive players go through multi-game dry spells and even with scoring up across the league, putting the puck in the net can be one of the most difficult and random feats in sports.
Fiala has plenty of company in his scoring woes. Carolina has only two goals from star center Sebastian Aho, and scrappy young left wing Andrei Svechnikov has only an empty-netter in Game 1 to show for his series against Boston after a 30-goal regular season.
As Calgary and Dallas entered Game 4 on Monday night, three of the teams' four 40-goal scorers - Jason Robertson of the Stars and Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames - were still seeking their first of the series. Calgary's Elias Lindholm scored twice in the first three games.
Toronto has two goals apiece from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander against Tampa Bay, but Maple Leafs captain John Tavares has yet to net one.
"He’s working. He’s trying,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s a tough series out there.”
Both Matthews and Marner went without a goal in the two road games when the Lightning could match lines to better defend the NHL's leading scorer and his top sidekick.
“They were extremely aggressive and pressing up extremely hard early,” Tavares said. “Our level of execution and detail needs to be strong through that to break through that pressure."
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