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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Vegas, Game 1

West Division playoffs commence Sunday afternoon in Sin City

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com
The essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild at Vegas Golden Knights (Game 1, best-of-7)

Puck drop: 2:00 p.m. CT

Watch: NBC, NBC Sports App

Listen: KFAN FM 100.3, Wild Radio NetworkWild NHL App

Follow: @mnwild, @mnwildscribe; GameCenter


The Wild Warmup is presented by Bryant Heating and Cooling
 

LAS VEGAS -- Three weeks after clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild will finally embark on its postseason journey beginning Sunday when it plays the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of its First Round series. 

The series marks the first playoff meeting between the clubs.

Minnesota rolled up a 5-1-2 record against Vegas during the regular season and overall, the Wild has had more success against the Knights than any other team in the NHL. Since Vegas entered the League in 2017, Minnesota has posted an 11-2-3 record - with the wins and team points serving as the most by any opponent.

Vegas is the only team in the NHL that has never won a regulation game at Xcel Energy Center. 

That success doesn't mean much, however, as of noon local time on Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena. 

"Drop of the puck [on Sunday], that's all we're thinking about and worried about," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "Once that puck is dropped, we're gonna play hard. And [that success] doesn't matter. Our mindset all year has been to not dwell on the negativity and we haven't patted ourselves on the back when things have gone well. 

"So regardless of what has happened, we need to compete in order to give ourselves an opportunity to have success."

For the Wild, the trip to the postseason is the second-straight and eighth in the past nine seasons. The Wild is one of just four teams to accomplish that, joining Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington.

The hope is that this season's trip to the playoffs lasts longer than last year, where the Wild lost in four games to the Vancouver Canucks inside the Edmonton bubble last August. 

It's the 11th time in 20 seasons as a franchise that the regular season has ended with a trip to the playoffs. Despite the shortened 56-game season, this year marked the earliest the Wild has ever clinched a spot in the playoffs, doing so with nine games remaining. 

That has meant three weeks of prepping, fine tuning, and doing whatever necessary to get ready. 

Video: Pregame: Game 1 vs Vegas

"We clinched for a while ago now and very proud of how the guys conducted themselves throughout that," Evason said. "Obviously, the last two hockey games were a little bit funky, but for the most part we competed our butts off regardless of what happened, and that's what our group has done the entire year, which should sit well with us going forward, regardless of what happens. 

"The guys have been able to put things in the past and just look at that puck drop for tomorrow afternoon and no further than that."

Despite that, the Wild didn't know it would be Vegas-bound until the final night of the regular season, when Colorado's win over Los Angeles clinched the West Division and the Presidents' Trophy for the Avalanche, pushing the Knights into the No. 2 spot. 

The winner of this series will play the winner of the Avs and Blues in the Second Round. Minnesota hasn't advanced past the First Round since a series win over St. Louis in 2015. 

Kirill Kaprizov led the Wild with eight points, including six goals, while Marcus Foligno had three goals and seven points against Vegas this season. Jonas Brodin and Joel Eriksson Ek each tallied six points.

Vegas did get some good news at practice on Saturday as Tomas Nosek returned and skated on the team's top line with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson. 

For much of the season, the left wing on that line has been manned by Max Pacioretty, who remains out and is increasingly unlikely to play in Game 1. He's officially a game-time decision.

Pacioretty, who missed the final six games of the regular season because of the undisclosed injury, led the Golden Knights in goals with 24 and has 10 goals in 22 career games against the Wild. 

Video: NHL Tonight previews the Wild vs. Golden Knights

Defenseman Alec Martinez also missed practice on Saturday and doesn't seem likely to play. Martinez, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Los Angeles Kings almost a decade ago, is coming off the best offensive regular season in his career. He scored nine goals and had 23 assists in 53 games, missing the final two games before the end of the season.

Officially, Martinez is a game-time decision as well.

Vegas is led by its goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, who together are coming off a regular season where they won the William Jennings Trophy as the stingiest goaltending duo in the NHL.

Fleury just wrapped up perhaps his finest regular season as a pro, posting a 26-10-0 record with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage - numbers that each ranked second in the NHL amongst goalies with at least 25 starts. 

Of the 71 goals allowed by Fleury this season, Minnesota scored 14 of them - nearly 20 percent of his total goals against - in just 16 percent of the games.

Lehner has battled injury issues this season but is healthy now and posted a 13-4-2 record in 19 starts, to go with a .913 save percentage and 2.29 goals against. 

Together, Fleury and Lehner allowed 115 goals in 55 starts. Minnesota scored 22 of those goals - the most damage done by any team in the West Division. 

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