Its all about the quest for 16. The team that wins 16 games in the playoffs will be the ones that are hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of what will be an epic struggle over the next two months. If the beards haven’t started yet, they soon will and each team will probably resemble a crew of a World War II U-boat; pale, beaten up and weathered. Wayne Gretzky once said that he didn’t know what it took to win a cup until he lost in his first attempt as he walked by the New York Islanders’ locker room and saw what their players were willing to endure to win hockey’s ultimate prize. Ice, painful moans and even broken bones won’t stop players from their quest and its part of what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs the best in sports.
The Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues will be forced to push their team to another level. Players will will have to demonstrate more selflessness and personal sacrifice to will their team to a victory. Each game will exact a heavy toll, so which club will come out on top in game 1?
1st Period Thoughts: The sellout crowd was loud and energized as the Wild took the ice and Minnesota certainly seemed to feed off the energy. The Wild were working pucks deep and flying around on the forecheck and applying all kinds of pressure on the Blues defenseman. Minnesota appeared to be committed to trying to generate chances from in close and the Blues had to dig deep to keep the Wild from blitzing them early. I thought the Mikko Koivu, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund line looked dangerous. A few minutes into the game, Haula stripped Jordan Schmaltz of the puck and he’d race in on a breakaway but his backhand bid was denied by Jake Allen. The Blues were just playing rope-a-dope knowing full well Minnesota was going to be pouring it on offensively. After those first few minutes, the Wild seemed to step back a bit and they seemed to settle for shots from the perimeter. Even on the power play the Wild were settling for the perimeter chances and without any traffic near the Blues crease it was of little threat to actually find the back of the net. Allen had little trouble with these opportunities. The Blues finally put their first shot on goal after some forechecking pressure of their own as Ryan Reaves forced an ill-advised pass from Mathew Dumba that went out front of the Wild crease that forced Devan Dubnyk to make his first save of the game on a Scottie Upshall attempt. Minnesota seemed to slow its game down and that make it easier for the Blues defenseman to deny passing and shooting lanes and the Wild had a real tough time creating any kind of offensive pressure. Minnesota’s best chance in the latter half came off perimeter chance by Nino Niederreiter that Allen stopped but he’d give up a rebound that just hopped over the stick of Chris Stewart who had a gimme of a goal in his sights. A late period holding the stick penalty by Parise gave the Blues a power play but Minnesota’s penalty kill was rock solid, forcing St. Louis in the perimeter and breaking up passing lanes and clearing the zone repeatedly to keep the game knotted at 0-0 going into the 1st intermission. Not a bad opening period, but they need get back to that forecheck that worked so well.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild had good energy to start the 2nd period, and they re-establish the forechecking pressure that looked so good early in the 1st. The Blues were on their heels as Minnesota stormed in the St. Louis zone and Jake Allen found himself fighting off a variety of chances. Jake Allen started to feel the pressure and he started giving up rebounds which should’ve meant the Wild would swarm the Blues crease but inexplicably we’d start settling for shots from the perimeter. With Minnesota voluntarily taking their foot off the gas a turnover in the Wild zone gave some time and space to Vladimir Sobotka who wired as shot that got a small deflection off Christian Folin and Dubnyk couldn’t glove the shot and it fluttered in. 1-0 Blues. Minnesota would try to answer back but the Blues made it tough to generate shots from the middle of the ice. Back to back penalties would put the Wild even more under the gun, but Minnesota stepped up its game on the penalty kill and seemed to gain energy from the challenge. Minnesota did a fine job of getting into passing lanes and pressuring the puck carrier and forcing turnovers and even managed to create a few shorthanded chances in the process. After the successful back-to-back kills the Wild went on the attack and Jason Zucker was like a man possessed. He raced into the Blues end and then after failing on his solo rush kept hustling and got set up brilliantly by Charlie Coyle but his backhand bid was blocked aside by Allen who then made an even more incredible glove save on Coyle. Minnesota was buzzing and doing just about everything right but lighting the lamp. Minnesota outshot the Blues 16-6 in the period but the Blues had the advantage where it counts most.
3rd Period Thoughts: Better late than never, but more on that later. Minnesota seemed to be drawing back and again settling for the perimeter shots that were fairly routine saves for Allen and all too often the Wild had little or no traffic in front and when they did have a player nearby it was the simple flyby that made for a minimal amount of pressure on a rebound bid. The Wild did ramp up the pressure after a few minutes and came dangerously close to cashing in as a point shot was stopped by Allen but Minnesota would storm the crease and it looked like Nino Niederreiter was going to be able to nudge the puck over the goal line only to be stopped by Zach Parise who was trying to sweep it in himself only to fish it out of the blue paint instead. Parise could only look up at the Jumbotron in disbelief at his act of charity for the Blues. The Wild would try to regroup but before they could renew their assault on the St. Louis end, they had to contend with a Blues attack that nearly applied the dagger to Minnesota as Devan Dubnyk stopped Vladimir Tarasenko on a great chance. A few moments later Dubnyk would nearly give a goal away as the puck went off the boards in an odd way and he fell on the way back towards the crease but luckily got some support to sweep the puck out of danger before the Blues could pounce. Minnesota would really pour it on the final two minutes; pulling Dubnyk for an extra attacker with over a minute left. After a Minnesota timeout to devise a 6-on-5 strategy, the timeout paid off as Koivu set up Parise for a pretty goal from just to the right of the Blues crease with just 23 seconds left in the game sending it to overtime. The goal was met with perhaps the loudest cheer I’ve ever heard in Xcel Energy Center history.
Overtime Thoughts: Both teams were a bit cautious to start overtime, wary of making the crucial game-breaking mistake. After a few minutes of hesitant play, the Wild would start to apply pressure and pretty soon Allen found himself under siege. The Wild got their forecheck going a bit, but shots were still hard to come by. The Wild were pinching with their defense and they would get caught as the Blues set up a 2-on-1 between Jori Lehtera and Alex Pietrangelo and some great hustle allowed Ryan Suter to get back as he slashed the Blues defenseman before he could pull the trigger and drawing a penalty in the process. It was a necessary penalty to take and the Wild penalty kill went to work. Minnesota did a great job of denying time and space and clearing the zone and they’d kill the kill. A few minutes later Jason Zucker would draw a hooking call on Pietrangelo and the Wild would have a golden opportunity to net the game winner, or so they thought. Minnesota moved the puck quickly and they set up Coyle in the slot but as he tried to pull the trigger he’d shatter his stick and the puck would miss wide of the net. Sadly that was as close as the Wild would get. After the failed power play, the Wild seemed to be gassed and their play steadily faded. The passes weren’t tape to tape, but simply area passes with dim hopes of springing someone on a breakaway. The Blues weren’t exactly stifling but they probably realized they had a punch drunk Wild out there. Tarasenko would pick up a puck at center ice and he’d dangle around Koivu like he wasn’t there and then he’d find a pinching Joel Edmundson with a pass for an easy tap in goal and the Blues would take Game 1, 2-1.
~ The Wild roster was as follows this evening: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville, Chris Stewart, Erik Haula, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser, Jordan Schroeder, Ryan White were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Joel Edmundson, 2nd Jake Allen, 3rd Star Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance 19,168 was at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 3, Milwaukee 2 OT
On Sunday, the Charlotte Checkers won their game against Texas which eliminated the Wild from playoff contention for a 4th season in a row. Despite the bad news prior to the start of their game on Sunday the Wild played with a lot of pride against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Iowa got going early as they lit the lamp just 49 seconds in as Luke Kunin blazed a shot by Jonas Gunnarsson. Iowa would add another goal as Colton Beck stole a puck near the Admirals’ blueline and he worked a nice give and go with Kunin who dished it back to Beck who skated in and beat Gunnarsson over the shoulder. Milwaukee Head Coach Dean Evason was irate and chewed out his club with a timeout. This seemed to refocus the Admirals who began to tilt the ice in their favor. The Admirals would score late in the period when Vladislav Kamenev scored his 20th goal of the season after Gustav Olofsson collided with Steve Michalek to cut the Iowa lead to one going into the 1st intermission. In the 2nd, the Wild spent a majority of the time trying to hold off a pretty determined Milwaukee attack as they tried to net the equalizer. Their persistence would be rewarded as a turnover in the neutral zone by Maxime Fortunus turned into an easy set up on a 2-on-1 for Matt White who one-timed a shot that beat Michalek to tie it up at two going into the 2nd intermission. Michalek was again busy in the 3rd, but he managed to hold on to send the game to overtime. In overtime, Kamenev would lose an edge and the puck and Iowa quickly counter attacked as Alex Tuch raced in and beat Gunnarsson with a little wrist shot off the toe drag to give Iowa a 3-2 victory. Michalek had 39 saves in the win.