ST. LOUIS – Marc-Andre Fleury was about to be surrounded by reporters late Wednesday night – and that’s what happens when you almost get into a goalkeeper fight.
And Fleury’s Wild goalie tandem partner Filip Gustavsson gave him some tips.
“Tell him he didn’t want to fight you,” Gustavsson said, smiling. “He was scared.”
Fleury just laughed. This game, the most entertaining of the Wild’s season, needed no extra spice. There were plenty of juicy quotes and colors from what the national television audience just saw. There was a hat trick. A match penalty. A frenzied comeback, the Wild’s 8-5 win, extending their streak of franchise-record points to 14 (11-0-3).
But what everyone will remember was the fight that could have been. The image of Fleury racing to the Blues zone to go after Jordan Binnington, who had just thrown a stupid punch at Ryan Hartman after the Wild center cut him off after his goal in the second period. Fleury heard Binnington hit one of his teammates in the crotch with his stick in the first period, so when Binnington hit Hartman in the face with the pointed end of the blocker, the veteran goaltender had had enough.
“I felt that it was Mine boy,’ said Fleury. “I had to take care of him.”
Fleury threw off his helmet, rolled up his sleeves. The audience was jacked.
As Ric Flair would say, fitting the game, “WOOOOOOO!”
“It kind of felt like this was our moment,” said Binnington.
“Old school hockey,” said Wild coach Dean Evason.
“It would have been good for the league,” said Brayden Schenn. “People talk about that sort of thing.”
Fleury has talked about fighting being one of the last things on a Hall of Fame career bucket list. But veteran referees Kelly Sutherland and Gord Dwyer stopped both goalkeepers. Told them it wouldn’t happen.
“It would have been nice,” Fleury said. “The crowd got up. I’ve never had a fight in my career so it would have been pretty cool. Too bad.”
Where do we even begin with this one?
The fact that former Blues Cup champion Oskar Sundqvist scored the tying goal on his return to St. Louis – and was a footnote – says everything you need to know about how wild this game was. Or the fact that defenseman Jake Middleton fell ill in the afternoon, so the Wild had to rush scheduled scratch Calen Addison to the arena, and he showed up just before warm-up. The game looked like it was going to be boring, a Minnesota streak snapper, as they trailed 3-1 after the first period.
Then came a first heart-to-heart break.
“We were frustrated,” defender Alex Goligoski said. “It didn’t seem like we got the bounces and it felt like we played well, just made mistakes and it landed in our net. We reoriented ourselves, said the right things.
“We’re going to win this game. Just get to work.’”
They did exactly that. John Klingberg started with his first goal against Minnesota, a floating shot from the tip. Then Sundqvist tied it up from his office, the blue paint. And Mason Shaw continued the fourth-line hot streak by scoring the team’s third goal in one minute, 58 seconds.
That’s when Binnington – known for his outbursts – started chirping the wild bank. Ryan Reaves and Shaw returned it.
What did he say?
“I don’t know,” Reaves said. “He had marbles in his mouth. I couldn’t understand it.”
“You just knew he was going to do something at some point,” Hartman said.
Six minutes later all hell broke loose.
Hartman scored a power play goal to give the Wild the lead for good. He attempted to skate to the corner for the party, but momentum carried Hartman toward a still sprawling Binnington. Hartman clipped Binnington’s path as he tried to lift his skate over him.
Binnington immediately got up, stormed into the party and hit Hartman with his stick/blocker arm.
“Nothing new from him,” Hartman said. “He’s been doing that sort of thing for a while.”
“It was a tough game,” said Binnington. “They’re a tough team to play against. They’re hard around the net and I just felt it reached a certain point… goals were being scored, so it was frustrating. I just felt, yes, that was the moment.”
Binnington received a five-minute match penalty. He was sent away. Still, he decided this was the time he would head to the center of the ice to pump up the crowd.
“I don’t know exactly what he was doing,” said Reaves, who played with Binnington in St. Louis. “He just got buried, took a five-minute sentence, and he’s trying to stir up the crowd? It was a weird time to set the crowd on fire. Hey, appreciate the power play I guess.
Reaves joked on TNT’s pregame show that he was offensively on a “stove” after his Gordie Howe hat-trick in Arizona on Sunday. And Reaves kept it up with a goal and an assist, marking the first time in his 800+ game career that he played back-to-back multi-point games. It is only the fourth time he has scored in consecutive games.
“Kirill (Kaprizov) is out, I have to come forward. That lands on my shoulders,” Reaves joked. “Everyone has taken steps.”
The Wild amazingly scored 17 goals in the first three games since Kaprizov was injured (which kept him out for 3-4 weeks). It was the eighth time in franchise history that the Wild had scored eight goals in a game and third time on the road.
“Like we said, ‘Who needs Kirill?'” Evason joked.
Evason said assistant Brett McLean came in at the second break and said, “Boy, there was a lot to unpack in that period.” The Wild head coach said you never want to see your goalkeeper fight, but he liked the idea of guys sticking together. The Binnington attack and ensuing battle did not bother him.
“Old school hockey,” he said. “Looks familiar.”
Fleury said a few days ago that he wouldn’t mind getting into a fight. He noted that he got into it in junior and broke his knuckle, forcing him to miss a few weeks. “It’s the end of our season, so we don’t have time for that,” he said. “It’s not the right time to fool around.”
By Wednesday, he had changed his mind. It didn’t take him long to decide he was going for it.
“That was pretty fast,” Fleury said. “One of the guys said (Binnington) hit them in the nut bag. Can I say crazy? When I saw him throw another one at our man, that was the time.
Reaves, one of the best fighters in the league, said he tipped Fleury before the match, in case he got into a fight. “He said he wanted it,” Reaves said. “Those two go back and forth. I wish the referees had let him go.”
“You just would have loved to see it – Binner vs. Marc-Andre Fleury on TNT,” Schenn said. “If you’re looking for viewers and ratings and people talking about the game… that’s one way to do it.”
(Photo: Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)