A long while ago, on the wild.com message boards a fan made a quip about Pascal Dupuis that always gets a little chuckle out of me whenever I think of it (including now). To provide a tiny bit of context, this was a season or two after the miraculous 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs run and no one was quite sure if he was a one-season wonder or a player who had hit a dry spell. One thing that made Wild fans at the time crazy was his penchant for flying into the offensive zone and soon as he crossed the blueline he’d blast a shot on goal that usually go a few feet wide of the goal. It was almost comical, so back to the quip. The quip was about Dupuis answering the door during Halloween to drop candy into the little trick-or-treaters bag or hands only to miss every single time and his own feeling of not being able to even hit that easy target. That kind of sums up how I feel about Charlie Coyle these days. Coyle’s trick or treating candy distribution would likely have him fumbling the ‘fun size’ treat or having it somehow fall apart in his hands and of course failing to deliver the treat he wants to give so much.
In Game 1, Coyle got set up for some fantastic chances but couldn’t bury them for one reason or another. The goalie makes a great stop, or his stick shatters but its always something. The playoffs are like a crucible, where everything trivial is usually burned away and you find out what you really have or what you don’t have. How will the Wild respond after Wednesday night’s disappointing game 1 loss?
1st Period Thoughts: The period was a lot like what I expected going into this game. The Blues knew the Wild were going to be told they had to play tougher and with more determination, so St. Louis dresses a bit bigger lineup and raises their physical game. The Wild then get distracted by the physical play and stop worrying about scoring goals but rather avoiding or dishing out hits of their own. The sad thing is the Wild left some great chances wither thanks to some poor passes that forced Minnesota to bobble the puck at the last moment. The Blues were content to sit back defend and stand up Wild skaters consistently and goad Minnesota with extra hits after the puck was gone. Perhaps the best example of this was Colton Parayko on Mikael Granlund who rag dolled the Wild’s leading scorer this season after the Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Granlund line cycled the puck pretty effectively in their zone. This led to a number of minor scuffles and scrums after the whistle. The crowd enjoyed them, but they were effective. Minnesota stopped attacking with reckless abandon and forechecking with great hustle in the offensive zone and instead was dumping the puck in and not even bothering to chase it down. The Wild would take the first penalty of the game when Jason Zucker foolishly speared Ivan Barbashev right in front of the bench that was caught by NHL referee Brad Meier. Fortunately Zucker’s lack of discipline didn’t cost the Wild as they were aggressive and Devan Dubnyk was seeing the puck well and his defenseman were able to sweep away loose pucks consistently. Minnesota would then draw a penalty of their own a few minutes later as Robert Bortuzzo was tagged with a roughing call. On the power play the Blues basically defended the slot area allowing the Wild all kinds of time and space on the perimeter and Minnesota settled for shots from the outside that failed to go on goal and the result was little to no pressure despite an almost 2-full minutes of puck possession in the St. Louis end. The period would end and while the score said 0-0, it still felt like the Wild were trailing in this game because the tempo was precisely what the Blues wanted.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period did not start out well for Minnesota. The Wild were still mostly passive and allowing the Blues to channel them out to the perimeter where they were of little threat to score. The lack of offensive pressure emboldened the Blues who waited for their opportunity and they’d take the lead as Joel Edundson‘s blast from the point was partially deflected but beat an unscreened Dubnyk. 1-0 Blues. As many expected the Blues kept playing their game of encouraging the Wild to the perimeter and Minnesota played right into that trap. It was frustrating as the after the whistle scrums and little on-ice shenanigans continued and Wild seemed to be aloof to the psychological game the Blues were playing. At times the Blues seemed to take liberties with no consequence and the fans on Twitter were all over the officiating. St. Louis would earn a penalty late in the period as Martin Hanzal drew a holding the stick call on Alex Steen. A few seconds into the power play Scottie Upshall got his elbow into the face of Nino Niederreiter giving Minnesota a 5-on-3 power play. You certainly could sense the urgency of the moment as Minnesota worked the puck around on the 5-on-3 before a centering pass reached Zach Parise who went upstairs up underneath the crossbar to tie the game at 1-1. Minnesota still had almost a minute and a half of power play time work with, but strangely they moved Parise from the shooting position in the middle of the ice to a spot along the wall. The Wild didn’t get much of anything going at all 5-on-4. As the period expired, Upshall boarded Erik Haula to no call.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild seemed determined to go and take the lead in the 3rd. Yet the Blues were still patient, biding their time for that one opportunity they could exploit. At times the Wild got shifts where you felt they were building momentum and getting close to creating a quality scoring chance as the 4th line of Chris Stewart, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jason Pominville were buzzing pretty well with Eriksson Ek dishing out a nice check to Vladimir Tarasenko that drew cheers from the sellout crowd. The Wild tried to attack the Blues end with more speed but Allen was sharp and didn’t have to deal with much in the way of traffic near his crease all game long. The Blues would finally get their opening late in the 3rd when David Perron gave a drop pass for Jaden Schwartz who took advantage of Perron’s screen and he wired a shot by Dubnyk who clearly didn’t see the shot at all. 2-1 lead with just over 2 minutes left to play. Minnesota would again work for some empty-net magic but it wasn’t meant to be as they couldn’t generate much in the way of shots on goal in the final minutes and they’d come up short.
Credit Mike Yeo to learning about the Wild’s mindset in games where the play gets a little dirtier and grittier. No doubt learned from games against the Avalanche who often opted to thug it up a bit, which got the Wild out of their game and encouraged Minnesota to play along the perimeter. The Wild allow themselves to be channeled to the perimeter far too easily and got caught up trying to trade hits with St. Louis. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau summed it up best in the post-game interview.
“We were running out of the way trying to hit guys too much. We didn’t do that for 82 games, I don’t know why we are now.” ~ Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau after Minnesota’s Game 2 loss to the Blues
Minnesota must play its game and it must be more determined in taking the middle of the ice. I know the Blues defenseman are bigger but Minnesota must force St. Louis to defend. It will lead to better scoring chances and it will draw more penalties in the process. Until the Wild are willing to pay that price the Blues will control this series and that’s a major reason they’re leading this series two games to none.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville, Chris Stewart, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser, Steve Michalek, Ryan White and Jordan Schroeder were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jaden Schwartz, 2nd Star Zach Parise, 3rd Star Alex Pietrangelo
~ Attendance was 19,404 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 1, Chicago 2
Iowa would debut two new players on Thursday night in defenseman Carson Soucy and forward Dmitry Sokolov even though the Wild know there season will be at an end in 2 more games regardless of the outcome. The Wild would strike first, just 1:25 into the game when veteran Jeff Hoggan fired a shot from a sharp angle that snuck through Ville Husso to make it 1-0 Iowa. After that it was all Chicago who carried most of the play the rest of the period. The Wolves would strike twice in a span of 5 minutes as Wade Megan deflects a shot by Alex Stalock and then Samuel Blais scores on a quick shot. 2-1 Wolves going into the first intermission. Iowa worked hard to try to push for the equalizer but Husso was razor sharp. Meanwhile Stalock did all he could to keep it a one-goal game but ultimately the Wild just couldn’t bury that next goal and they’d fall 2-1. Stalock had 33 saves in the loss.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW / RW – Jordan Greenway (Boston U, H-East) ~ the rugged power forward surprised just about everyone (Wild officials, family advisers) of his decision to return to Boston University for his junior season especially after the departures of players like Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy. Greenway earned rave reviews for his strong performance at the World Junior Championships and had another solid college season with the Terriers posting 10 goals, 31 points, 82 PIM’s and was a +11 in 37 games.