Red-hot Boldy puts Wild on his back
The start of the 2022-23 campaign was forgettable for the Minnesota Wild. They started out 0-3 and got outscored 20-12 on home ice. The clunker to start it all was a 7-3 loss against the New York Rangers to open the season in front of the home crowd on Oct. 13 at Xcel Energy Center.
The only bright spot in that game was the pair of goals from Matt Boldy, who made two brilliant moves in the third period against 2022 Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin in the Rangers net.
“I would give (the goals) back in a heartbeat,” Boldy said after the opening loss. “Just get blown out of the rink, it’s nothing you really look on too much.”
More than five months down the road, those two goals still count toward a stellar season for the young winger, who’s second on the Wild team in goals scored this season with 28, now only 11 behind leader Kirill Kaprizov. The red-hot scorer added a natural hat trick to his season accomplishments in a 5-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken on Monday.
Joel Eriksson Ek had the lone assists on Boldy’s second and third goals. He told Boldy after the hat trick was completed to “stay hot.”
“He’s been really good for us as of late,” Eriksson Ek said. “He’s on a tear right now. So, I hope he can keep it up.”
Everything Boldy touches turns to gold, or something like that. The Wild winger is one of the hottest scorers in the NHL right now. He has nine goals over his last five games, bookended by a pair of hat tricks on home ice against Washington and Seattle. In between, he scored a breakaway buzzer-beater at the end of overtime for a 2-1 victory in New Jersey.
It certainly feels like the puck is going in every time Boldy winds up for a shot. He agreed, while crediting his linemates Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson, acquired by the Wild about a month ago.
“You look at some of those goals, just putting it on a tee for me,” Boldy said. “Great pass by Jo-Jo on the first one. Then Ekky winning the faceoff and Ekky putting it on a tee again. Those guys are playing awesome.”
Boldy completed his natural hat trick 50 seconds into the third period after Eriksson Ek forced a Kraken turnover in the Seattle zone. Boldy accepted the pass, wound up his stick and quickly fired the blast. The goal horn sounded, Boldy offered up a smile and hats littered the ice for the second time in five games.
“He’s a fun player to watch,” said Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who saw Boldy’s goals from his own crease at the other end. Fleury kept the Wild in the game early as the Wild consistently were getting outshot by a 2-to-1 margin in the game, despite leading on the scoreboard.
“He controls the puck a lot,” Fleury said, of Boldy. “He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways.”
No breakaways on Monday, but even before the game was over and the hats were cleaned up, Boldy got plenty of recognition on the videoboard for his accomplishments. Only five NHL players have more hat tricks than Boldy’s three before turning 22 years old: Patrik Laine (eight), former Wild star Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 on April 5.
Wild defenseman Jake Middleton, who scored the first goal but called the game “the Matt Boldy and the Flower (Fleury) show,” noticed that stat on the board during the game, commenting on the company Boldy finds himself in with that group.
“That’s pretty special,” Middleton said. “So, it’s cool to have a player of his caliber doing it at such a young age, especially with another top player out, the way he’s kind of put us on his back is pretty impressive.”
Boldy’s play and production would be welcome any time. But his onslaught of goals lately are doubly exciting because superstar Kaprizov has been out of the lineup with a lower body injury sustained during a game in Winnipeg earlier this month. At the time, Kaprizov seemed to be a one-man show when it came to the Wild scoring goals. The natural worry was that it could spell disaster and lead to a downslide for the team when he went out injured.
It’s no secret that the Wild are instantly a much more fun team to watch when Kaprizov joined the ranks. Do the highlight-reel goals diminish without him in the lineup? Boldy is making a strong case for that answer to be no.
But the season has presented the ups and downs on the scoresheet for Boldy. He went through a stretch without a goal before signing a seven-year, $49 million contract extension with the Wild on Jan. 16 this season. The ink on paper seemed to inspire immediate results as Boldy scored four goals and seven points in his next five games.
He then went through perhaps the biggest slump of his still-youthful NHL career, going 15 games throughout the month of February without a goal, a stretch that included only four assists when his focus often appeared to shift to a pass-first mentality.
Now, both Wild coach Dean Evason and Eriksson Ek noted that Boldy shoots the puck more.
“You go through slumps, you learn what you need to do to score,” Eriksson Ek said. “I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity.”
Boldy said after the win against Seattle that he’s the “same kid I was in February when things weren’t going in, so I think the more you just kind of stick with who you are and don’t change much, the better.” Not too much changed with the coaching staff in their direction to Boldy either, according to Evason, just the constant conversations throughout the season that they’ve had showing Boldy, and other players, the opportunities to shoot the puck.
“You just continually keep showing them and we did, all the staff, everybody kind of took turns talking to him,” Evason said. “But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skill set, it’s a real unselfish quality, right? Like he wants to pass instead of shoot.
“But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals and he can score goals.”