When the Western Conference playoff picture became more clear in the last two weeks of the NHL regular season, as much as the Wild knew we’d either be playing St. Louis or Nashville the thoughts always returned to ‘what about Chicago.’ Well what about Chicago, the top seed in the west just got swept in absolutely dominating fashion by the Nashville Predators. It wasn’t even close really. So the Wild do not have to worry about that, but nor should they as they have more than their hands full against the St. Louis Blues. With Minnesota’s nemesis out of the playoffs, can the Wild focus that much more on the challenge that lays before them this afternoon?
No doubt the St. Louis Blues feel the same way even though they dispatched the Blackhawks last post-season. With virtually every major NHL media pundit’s bracket busted (as well as my own) who is the front runner? Does it really matter? What matters is making it to the next round and the Wild better get pumped about this opportunity. Can the Wild extend this series to Game 6 or will their season end on home ice?
1st Period Thoughts: The 1st did not start out well for the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota didn’t seem to have much jump in its skates and the Blues would tilt the ice into the Wild end right away. Devan Dubnyk found himself busy as Minnesota seemed be standing there like pylons and if it wasn’t for him being so sharp the Wild easily could’ve found themselves down by a goal or two in the first 5 minutes. Minnesota was giving up the middle of the ice and Paul Stastny was denied from the slot in the first minute and it just kept piling up. The Blues would take the advantage of the half-hearted play and Vladimir Tarasenko found a little time and space and he’d skate towards the Wild crease where Jonas Brodin stood there and gave a weak poke check attempt as he snuck a shot by Dubnyk. 1-0 St. Louis. The Wild’s pain continued as their unwillingness to hustle and provide puck support to their teammates would cost them dearly as Charlie Coyle won a battle for the puck but gave it away to Colton Parayko who then found Alex Steen near the point and he’d wire a shot by Dubnyk. 2-0 Blues. Perhaps embarrassed by their poor effort, the Wild would would finally show some fire now that they trailed by two. It started with the 4th line as Ryan White stepped into a slap shot that Jake Allen stopped and then was poked wide by a spirited follow up effort by Jason Zucker. The Wild kept attacking and Zach Parise dropped a puck back to Mikael Granlund who stepped into a slap shot that was denied by Allen and as the Wild crashed the net Granlund would end up run into Allen as the two fell into the back of the goal cage. Granlund would earn a goaltender interference penalty for his trouble although it appeared he may have been pushed into Allen. On the penalty kill, the Wild did a good job of pressuring the puck carrier and the Wild would get the big kill. Shortly after the successful kill, the Blues would take a foolish penalty as Scottie Upshall cross checked Nate Prosser in the face near the Wild bench. Minnesota would make it count as Ryan Suter stepped into a rare slap shot that ramped off the stick of Vladimir Sobotka and by Allen. 2-1 game and Minnesota seemed content to have cut the lead in half going into the first intermission. Will that poor start doom the Wild? We shall see, but at least the home club is showing some signs of life too.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was arguably the most wide-open period of the entire series thus far. The Wild and the Blues traded rushes at times, but Minnesota carried most of the play in the 2nd period as they pursued the game-tying goal. Minnesota had a number of close calls and the Wild avoided giving up another goal by the smallest of margins. First on the latter as Jared Spurgeon bailed out Devan Dubnyk with two big slaves near his crease as Jaden Schwartz thought he had a chance to give his team two-goal cushion. The Wild rallied back for some close opportunities of their own and whether it was desperate plays by their own diving defenseman like Parayko but Minnesota couldn’t find the back of the net. A scary moment after a great solo rush by Eric Staal as he Allen denied his chance and the former Carolina Hurricanes’ star went head first into the boards. The Wild training staff would attend to Staal who was clearly woozy and nauseous as he had to be helped back to the Minnesota locker room. He seemed to be concussed and that meant the Wild needed to regroup and they again had some good opportunities but couldn’t get the sticks on the loose pucks at crucial times or was unwilling to pull the trigger and were guilty of attempting the extra pass that resulted in no shots being taken at all. The Wild need to simplify and be willing to pay the price if they want to get the equalizer let alone win this game. I thought Coyle and White brought good energy, but now Minnesota needs someone to step up and make a play.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period finally brought out the level of complete effort, but not initially. The Wild were not showing a willingness to pay the price and a bad turnover by Marco Scandella would turn into a goal the other way as Paul Stastny got in close and after being stopped by Dubnyk took another whack at the puck and stuff it home. It was a devastating goal that gave the Blues a 3-1 lead. Minnesota would really start to pinch and fully commit to the attack the quality of chances increased in a big way. The Wild appeared to cut the lead to one, when a chipped puck by Hanzal seemed to land in the crease and go in as Nino Niederreiter crashed the net. NHL referee Francis Charron called off the goal citing goaltender interference but Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau would challenge the call and it would be reviewed. After a very lengthy review, which clearly showed the puck landing between Allen’s legs and rolling backwards towards the goal line as Niederreiter was pushed into Allen just before it completely crossed the goal line. The officials weren’t about to admit they were wrong and stood by their call and thus no goal to a chorus of boo’s from the Wild. Minnesota would go back to work and I do mean work; moving their feet and the Blues would struggle to keep up with our hustle as Jay Bouwmeester held up Mikael Granlund. That gave the Wild a power play and Minnesota would light the lamp a few seconds later as Granlund fired a shot towards the goal that was redirected by Niederreiter that Allen stopped but the puck was batted out of the air by an alert Mikko Koivu that cut the Blues lead to one, 3-2. Minnesota did not stop there and a few tense minutes later they’d get the game-tying goal as Minnesota worked a nice little chip in play by Erik Haula to a streaking Jason Zucker who raced in and then patiently outwaited Allen to fire it around the sprawling goalie. 3-3 game with the sellout crowd roaring. The Wild seemed to sense the blood in the water and Minnesota would flirt with the go-ahead goal. St. Louis would try one late push in the closing seconds and David Perron had a few good chances that Dubnyk had to stop and the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: In overtime, the two intensity and anxiety was clear with every shot on goal as the oohs and ahhs from the crowd echoed throughout the arena. Minnesota looked poised to get the go ahead goal as they worked pucks deep but when it came to taking that puck out front for a shot but they couldn’t manage to do so. After a few tense minutes it happened. A poor decision to play the puck by Devan Dubnyk was picked up by Vladimir Sobotka who outworked Hanzal for a puck and he’d sent a pass to Magnus Paajarvi who managed to get away from Zach Parise for a quick shot that found the back of the net. Boom, season over as Wild fall 4-3.
Before we analyze the season I want to say thank you to all of our readers out there. I hope we’ve managed to be interesting, informative and perhaps even a little entertaining. (sigh) It sucks to have a season come to an end, but the Wild waited too long to really start paying the price to work pucks in close to solve Jake Allen. I do not think the Blues will get that kind of ‘grace period’ with the Nashville Predators.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Martin Hanzal, Nino Niederreiter, Chris Stewart, Ryan White, Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Jordan Schroeder, Joel Eriksson Ek, Darcy Kuemper, Christian Folin, Tyler Graovac, Ryan Carter, Christoph Bertschy, Zack Mitchell, Alex Tuch, Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Magnus Paajarvi, 2nd Star Jason Zucker, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance was 19,228 at Xcel Energy Center.