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EDMONTON — The last time Cam Talbot faced the Edmonton Oilers, he was throwing punches at center ice with Oilers goaltender Mike Smith in an infamous brawl in a Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Flames and Oilers, two seasons ago that made highlight reels all across North America.
On Tuesday night, Talbot made the highlight reel for all the reasons he’s paid for. Stopping pucks.
The former Oilers goaltender was spectacular, making 38 saves as the Wild beat Edmonton 4-1 at Rogers Place.
Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Victor Rask and Dmitry Kulikov tallied for the Wild, while Jesse Puljujarvi scored the lone marker for the Oilers as Minnesota extended its win-streak to seven games, while the Oilers have dropped three straight contests.
The Wild improve to 18-6-1 and remain in top spot in the Central division.
“I’ve been back in this building a couple of times, but never got the start,” Talbot said. “It’s nice, this place will always have a place in our heart, we started our family here and it was a great building to play in and I still have a lot of great friends here. It’s one of those things where you look to come back here every time and it’s even more fun when you get a big win.
“I can’t say enough about the way we closed out the game. You don’t want to have lulls in the game, but give the guys credit, they just found a way to battle and win the hockey game.”
The Wild’s special teams haven’t been great this season, but they clearly won the special teams battle against Edmonton, which boasts the league’s best power play and its penalty kill is in the top-5.
Minnesota scored once on the power play and denied the Oilers potent power play on all five of their opportunities.
“Our penalty kill was outstanding tonight, I can’t say enough about them,” said Talbot, who is 2-0 in three appearances since being dealt away from the Oilers two seasons ago. “We weren’t giving them those Grade A chances that they’re accustomed to, and with the statistics coming in you wouldn’t think the power-play match-up would favor us, but we got a big one (power play goal) early, and our penalty kill did a great job, so give our special teams a ton of credit tonight.”
The Oilers have been notoriously slow starters out of the gate, giving up the first goal in 14 of the team’s first 23 games, and the Wild made it 15 as Eriksson Ek scored a power-play marker just 1:11 into the contest.
They went up 2-0 just 6:03 later as Foligno buried a cross-ice feed from Matt Dumba.
Edmonton’s high-octane offence, led by superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl got rolling in the second period as they put all kinds of pressure on the Wild, who continue to play without top defenseman and captain Jared Spurgeon, but the Oilers were only able to cut their deficit in half, despite outshooting Minnesota 20-6 in the middle frame.
“They played really well in the second period, but we really liked our regroup and how we played in the third period. We did a lot of real, real good things,” said Wild coach Dean Evason. “They’re going to get shots and to not give that second and third gritty ones to them. Obviously Draisaitl and McDavid are special players. They’re going to get their opportunities to shoot pucks, but it’s that second and third one, that not only did Cam do a good job of smothering, but our second forward, we got pucks the heck out of that area, so they didn’t have more opportunities like that.”
Talbot made several big saves in the second period. He robbed Draisaitl with a left pad save as the former Hart Trophy winner tried to beat him with a one-timer, backdoor. In the final minute of the period, he stretched out to make a right pad save off of Tyson Barrie, who was wide open in the slot.
But his best save came early in the third when he dove across to deny Darnell Nurse of the tying goal.
“I knew that he was there, but obviously you have to stay patient with the guy in the slot first,” recalled Talbot. “But our guy did a good job of going down and taking away the lower part of the net, and I was able to see the pass right away and I knew Nurse was down there and I just tried to get everything in front of it.”
Moments after the big save off Nurse, the Wild scored on a delayed penalty as Victor Rask scored his fourth goal of the season to give Minnesota some breathing room and then Kulikov showed off some slick hands on a breakaway goal to give the Wild a 4-1 lead with 5:03 remaining to put the game away.
The Timberwolves remain the kings of the first quarter. They outscored Brooklyn 37-36 over the first 12 minutes on Sunday at Target Center, marking the 10th straight first quarter in which they’ve outscored their opponent.
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said early in the season the team identified the value of getting off to strong starts in games. It’s been a focus ever since.
That’s why it made sense for Minnesota to put all of its eggs into the starting basket. That included pairing Patrick Beverley and D’Angelo Russell — the team’s two primary point guards — in the starting lineup to open contests. At times, finding a third point guard to fill the minutes where both guards are then off the floor has proven challenging, but the Wolves deemed that a problem worth having given the upside of the starters.
The five-man unit of Russell, Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns remains one of the best in basketball, statistically speaking. Yet the same group that starts the game so well has struggled at recent points to open third quarters. That suggests there’s something about the way the group starts that leads to early success.
For the season, the Timberwolves owned the second-best first quarter net rating in the entire NBA entering Sunday’s contest. They outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions over the first 12 minutes.
Now the key is for Minnesota to sustain that success over 48 minutes.
Beverley missed Sunday’s contest with a right ankle sprain suffered in Thursday’s loss to Atlanta. That marked the 14th game the veteran guard has missed this season due to a combination of injuries and illness.
Former Timberwolves assistant coach and defensive coordinator David Vanterpool returned to Target Center as a member of Brooklyn’s bench Sunday after spending the previous two years in Minnesota.
That tenure included the end of last season, in which Vanterpool worked under Chris Finch, who was tabbed as Minnesota’s new head coach over Vanterpool after the firing of Ryan Saunders.
Finch said he “enjoyed working with him very much.” The two sides parted ways at the end of the season.
“Obviously I came in in rough circumstances for everybody,” Finch said. “He was nothing but welcoming and very professional. … I didn’t have any prior relationship with DV, and through the remainder of that season, I really enjoyed working with him. We made some tweaks to our defense along the way, and he was instrumental helping implement those with an open mind.”
Finch told Vanterpool he is going to be an NBA head coach at some point.
“When you have that type of acumen and that type of experience, it’s only a matter of time,” Finch said. “Getting your opportunity is the hardest thing.”
WOLVES OWNER, PACKERS FAN?
Yes, that was new Timberwolves’ owner Alex Rodriguez at Lambeau Field on Saturday for the Packers’ divisional round loss to San Francisco. Rodriguez, who attends a number of big national events throughout the year as an avid sports fan, was sporting a Green Bay hat, which rubbed a few Minnesota sports fans the wrong way on social media.
Rodriguez was back on the Target Center sidelines Sunday, supporting the Timberwolves.
An employee at a St. Paul liquor store who confronted a shoplifter Sunday afternoon was shot twice and is in stable condition, police said.
Officers responded about 3:45 p.m. to reports of a shooting in the parking lot of liquor store at 140 Snelling Avenue North, according to Steve Linders, a St. Paul Police Department spokesman.
When they arrived they found a man in his twenties had been shot twice in the abdomen, Linders said. Officers provided first aid until medics arrived and took the man to Regions Hospital where he is listed in stable condition.
Witnesses told police the man confronted a shoplifter who had just left the liquor store. The shoplifter pulled out a gun and shot the employee.
The shooting remains under investigation, and no suspects had been arrested as of 6 p.m. Sunday.
LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Police have identified the victim of a fatal shooting on an Amtrak train as a 30-year-old man from Independence, Missouri.
Police were called around 9:15 p.m. Friday to the Amtrak station in Independence where they found that Richie T. Aaron Jr. had been shot while the train had been stopped earlier at the Lee’s Summit station.
Sgt. Chris Depue of the Lee’s Summit Police Department says police are looking for the suspect, who was also riding the train and fled in Lee’s Summit.
The Kansas City Star reports that police say people on the train did not immediately recognize that a person had been shot.”
The train traveled north to Independence where life-saving efforts were attempted before Aaron was pronounced dead.
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