Entering the penultimate game of the season, the Minnesota Wild still had a chance at home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, while the St. Louis Blues had nothing much to play for having locked in their fourth-place position in the West division. But early on it was clear that the Blues weren’t going to take things easy on a Wild team that was absolutely looking like a team that hadn’t played in three days and was just trying to stay healthy, as St. Louis took care of Minnesota in a 4-0 shellacking. Ville Husso was more than a match for the Wild offense, earning his first career NHL shutout despite the Wild outshooting the Blues 30-27. David Perron had a goal and two assists for St. Louis, while Tory Krug added a pair of points.
The first period was a tale of two zones, with the Wild generating tons of looks and Ville Husso coming up with some really big saves in Minnesota’s offensive zone, while the Wild looked every bit the team that hasn’t played since Saturday on the defensive end of the ice.
Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, Matt Dumba, Nick Bjugstad... all had great chances at one point or another, but despite earning the first two power plays of the game, Husso did his part and kept the net clean. Husso’s kick save (and a beauty) on a Dumba backhander was the most highlight-worthy of all the Wild chances in the first:
But in the defensive zone, the Wild allowed the Blues some tight chances right in front of Talbot, and St. Louis took full advantage. First, Perron got a shot on Cam Talbot and Ivan Barbashev slipped by Dumba to sneak a puck under the Wild goalie’s glove.
Then later in the first, Jordan Kyrou evaded a Ryan Suter pokecheck and found a falling Jaden Schwartz on the back post, who swept the puck past Talbot for the two-goal lead that the Blues would take into the first intermission.
But where the Wild needed to come out in the second with a strong performance to get back in the game, it looked pretty clear that Minnesota was in “just don’t get hurt” mode. Meanwhile, the Blues kept firing on all cylinders, taking advantage of a recently struggling Talbot.
Krug one-timed a behind the net pass from Ryan O’Reilly to put the Blues up 3-0.
Then with both teams at 4-on-4 after a scrap between Kevin Fiala and Brayden Schenn, Perron took a pass from Krug and fired a wrister from way beyond the top of the crease. Talbot should have had a good look at it, but it somehow the puck found it’s way past him, and the Blues extended their lead to four.
With the Blues firmly in the lead and the Wild having nothing more to play for, the third period wasn’t very exciting as both teams managed a total of seven shots combined. The Wild had one additional power play chance to try to break up Husso’s first career NHL shutout but they struggled to get anything on net. In the end, though the shot total as well as the advanced stats (Wild 57.5% CF and 59.67% xGF%) favored the Wild, the effort level and final score were firmly in the Blues column in St. Louis 4-0 win.
If the Wild’s primary goal was to play things safe and avoid injury, then job well done. But if this team was hoping to ratchet up the intensity and get a playoff-level atmosphere going in preperations for taking on either the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche on the road (as both of the possible opponents did in dominant fashion on Wednesday night), then the Wild left a great deal to be desired.
Minnesota will get one more chance at the West division team that has given the most trouble this year, as the Wild and Blues will complete their seasons with the second half of their back-to-back on Thursday night. Expect to see Kaapo Kahkonen draw in for Talbot, who will likely take the night off and lick his wounds from tonight’s loss. I’d also expect to see little to no ice time for the some of the Wild stars like Kirill Kaprizov or Kevin Fiala, whom the Wild will assuredly want to keep healthy heading into their first-round series, slated to begin early next week.
As for the season finale, the puck will drop at 7 p.m. Thursday from the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.
Can Cam Talbot return to form?
Halfway into the first period, it looked like the answer to this question was going to be a resounding “yes,” as Talbot was making strong saves and stopping everything the Blues were throwing at him. And I’m not willing to put too much of the blame on the first period goals at Cam’s feet either, as his defense kind of left him out to dry on Barbashev’s goal, and Schwartz’s falling goal was equal parts fluky and due to defensive-zone breakdowns by Suter and or Greenway.
The second period, though, was rough, no doubt - especially when it came to Perron’s long-distance goal. No deflection, no screen to speak of. He’s got to have that one. Talbot also gave up some juicy rebounds - something he will have to tighten up against the likes of the Avalanche or Golden Knights.
Kahkonen will almost assuredly get the start tomorrow night in the second of the back-to-back, so it will be on Cam to get his head right heading into the playoffs.
Will we see Zach Parise again during the regular season?
Parise was a healthy scratch yet again, but considering (a) how invisible at best and poor at worst everyone outside of the Zuccarello-Rask-Kaprizov line looked tonight, and (b) that the Wild will be looking to rest some of their scoring stars in the season finale, Parise is more likely to draw into the lineup than anyone in the AHL, especially Matt Boldy, who fans are clamoring to see and who scored an empty netter in the Baby Wild’s 3-1 win over the Texas Stars in AHL action tonight.
So yes, we’ll probably see Parise in the finale, but whether or not that’s a good thing is yet to be determined.
Can Nico Sturm cement his place on this team?
In just over ten minutes of ice time, Sturm managed two shots but an expected goals value of 0.08, second worst among the forwards, and a CF% of 43.75, second worst on the team.
Granted, no one was pulling their weight tonight and were clearly more focused on exiting the game without injury. But Sturm didn’t do anything worth convincing Dean Evason that he needs more minutes in the playoffs.