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Vegas surges past Wild for 5-2 win to take 2-1 series lead

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Reilly Smith capped a three-goal second-period surge by the Vegas Golden Knights with the go-ahead score in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild to grab the lead Thursday night in this first-round playoff series.

Mark Stone had two goals, Patrick Brown and William Karlsson also scored, Nick Holden had two assists and Marc-Andre Fleury picked up another postseason win after a rough start in the net for the Golden Knights, who went up 2-1 in this West Division matchup. 

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Game 4 is in Minnesota on Saturday night.

Ryan Hartman and Joel Eriksson Ek had the goals for the Wild, who have scored first in all three games but squandered the advantage they seized with the series-opening victory in Las Vegas.

Cam Talbot, who made 42 saves in his overtime shutout in Game 1, was way too busy in the net. The Golden Knights had a staggering 36-9 shots advantage after the first period.

Fleury, who also had an assist, only needed to make 14 saves. He stretched his career-best streak to 12 straight games with two or fewer goals allowed.

The Wild produced the strong start they promised, taking the lead just 2:16 into the game on one of the prettiest passes of the playoffs. Kirill Kaprizov began an attack from the left before finding a narrow lane to thread the puck through the slot for Hartman to knock it in. Hartman had just been kicked out of the faceoff circle for a false start.

Eriksson Ek, who was the only scorer in Game 1, wristed a loose puck past Fleury for a 2-0 lead and thought he put the Wild up by three a few minutes later when a slap shot by Kevin Fiala was kicked his way for another rebound goal. Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer challenged that Wild were offside on the play, though, and the replay review confirmed it.

The crowd of about 4,500 — 25% of Xcel Energy Center's capacity as coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased — gave the Wild a rousing sendoff at the first intermission with hardly a hunch about how sharp the game would turn after that.

The Wild were outscored 61-46 in the second period during the regular season, and their midgame lull returned at the worst possible time.

Chandler Stephenson set up Stone for a wrist shot in the slot to make it 2-1, and then the bounces really went the visitors' way. Holden sent the puck off the boards, where it took an angle toward the net that would make his geometry teacher proud and gave Brown the opportunity to backhand it past Talbot for the tie.

Both Holden and Brown were healthy scratches for the first two games.

Less than two minutes later, Smith gave Vegas the lead when neither Talbot nor defenseman Jonas Brodin were able to knock the loose puck out of danger in time.

The Wild are one of four teams in the NHL with eight or more postseason appearances in the last nine years — only Pittsburgh has nine — but have played longer without winning a series than all but six other clubs in the league. This loss has made it a lot tougher to end that wait.

SO MUCH FOR A DAY OFF

The Golden Knights were informed Wednesday they had nine positive tests for COVID-19, forcing them to delay their flight to Minnesota and scramble those affected into quarantine. Retesting confirmed all nine cases were false positives, and the NHL quickly cleared them for travel in announcing a lab error that also affected the St. Louis Blues, but the situation caused “unbelievable concern,” DeBoer said.

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More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Dave Campbell, The Associated Press