ST PAUL, Minn. — Kevin Fiala has often let his frustration show if he's 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.
Four games into the first round against the Blues, with the teams tied at two games, 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, hopeful it 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, his postseason performance will factor into the equation. Over seven games in the first round last year against Vegas, Fiala had one goal and one assist.
“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 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 more severe than it actually is. All of the game's greatest offensive players go through multi-game dry spells. 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.
Carolina has two goals from star center Sebastian Aho, but 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 score a goal.
"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."
Here's a closer look at the four Game 5s on the schedule for Tuesday:
BRUINS at HURRICANES, series tied 2-2 (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
The Bruins have seized momentum with two home wins that leveled the series, and the Hurricanes have a clear idea why.
“I think the biggest lesson is just stay out of the box,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said on Monday.
The Hurricanes have a 10-5 scoring edge at even strength, but the Bruins have scored two power-play goals in each of the past two games. In Game 4, the Hurricanes committed eight penalties to give the Bruins more than 12 minutes of man-advantage time.
Much as Boston did in its Game 2 loss in Raleigh, the Hurricanes also struggled to keep their composure. Polarizing defenseman Tony DeAngelo, part of Carolina’s top power-play unit, picked up a two-minute minor for a high crosscheck on Curtis Lazar. He also traded verbal barbs with Bruins star Brad Marchand, then flung his stick ahead on the ice toward Marchand in a desperate attempt to interrupt his smooth put-away on an empty-netter.
“We’re trying to win a series here. If you don’t have any fire, you’re not going to win,” DeAngelo said. "So I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m not very concerned what anybody thinks.”
LIGHTNING at MAPLE LEAFS, series tied 2-2 (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
Now that they’ve evened the series, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning are aiming to take the same resolve and urgency with them on the road that they used to jump all over the Maple Leafs in Game 4 for a 7-3 win.
“We’re a veteran group, and we’ll lean on our experience here,” said Steven Stamkos, who scored 60 seconds in. “We know how critical Game 5 is in this tight series.”
BLUES at WILD, series tied 2-2 (9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
The Blues defense remains an injury-ravaged concern, with Marco Scandella ruled out of Game 5. Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo skated on Monday, but Berube was noncommittal about their status. Torey Krug is out indefinitely.
Jordan Binnington took over in the net in Game 4 and gave the Blues a badly needed jolt.
“He looked real calm and cool,” Berube said.
KINGS at OILERS, series tied 2-2 (10 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
Connor McDavid and the Oilers could use a power-play spark, a rare scenario for the star-laden squad. After finishing the regular season with the third-best scoring rate in the NHL with the man advantage, the Oilers went 5 for 11 over the first three games of the series against the Kings.
Game 4 was a different story against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, whose 31-save shutout included denials of the Oilers on all three of their power plays.
“We've got to outwork those guys. They were working on the penalty kill and didn’t give us as many looks,” Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “At the end of the day, it's just about work.”