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  • Blues 5, Wild 4: Wild comeback against Blues fails in OT loss


    Another game against the St. Louis Blues, another tough loss in a close game for the Minnesota Wild.

    In the second game in two nights — with a third coming Friday — the Wild were expected to come out with a plan after conceding three unanswered, third-period goals against the Blues for the loss the night before. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

    But first, some paperwork.

    Nick Bjugstad was available but remained a scratch as he’s likely not back to 100% after missing some time for an upper-body injury. Understandable, as it’s probably best to play it safe with health with the playoff spot locked up.

    Less understandable? Dean Evason’s decision to play Cam Talbot for a second time in two nights. Good on him for not buying that it was Talbot’s fault for the third-period collapse the night before, but I wonder if there is a reason goalies don’t typically play back-to-back games?

    A few minutes into the game and the Wild found themselves down off a bouncing puck.

    Talbot wasn’t necessarily at fault for that first goal, but the whole theme of the first period was a Wild team that came out looking out of sorts. The offense looked like it was playing aimlessly, lots of futile dump and chase, and if they did get a clean zone entry, lots of standing around looking lost. They looked gassed, and the game just started.

    Luckily, some of the more passionate players on the roster weren’t interested in playing passengers tonight.

    While I’m sure that both Greenway and Foligno were hoping to spark some chutzpah, the wind was taken out of the sails pretty handily. After Robert Bortuzzo was dealt the extra instigator penalty for the fight with Foligno, the Blues tallied their fifth shorthanded goal of the year off of a solid individual effort from Tyler Bozak.

    A few minutes later and the Wild found themselves down by three after a goal from Marco Scandella.

    At this point, things felt pretty not great. The team looked flat, the offense wasn’t clicking, the Victor Rask experiment was going horrendously, and Matt Dumba had already made a few atrocious turnovers. With the period drawing to a close, unless we saw a completely different team in the third, things felt pretty lost.

    But Selke Favorite Joel Eriksson Ek had a different idea.

    His 17th of the season was a pretty one, and it likely bore the responsibility for finally shaking the offense awake. Eriksson Ek, along with linemates Marcus Foligno and Greenway, is the engine of this team. When they are rolling, not much can stop them. Figuratively and also literally.

    With the score 3-1 in favor of the bad guys, the Wild found new life at the end of the second period. The third period was shaping up to be a doozy, and it was.

    But first, someone had to do something about Victor Rask ruining Kaprizov and Zuccarello.

    Bullying works.

    Once that was taken care of, Rask could focus on what he does best, showing flashes of value in low-leverage roles. First, an assist on Kevin Fiala’s goal to open the third period and draw the Wild within one.

    Next, a pretty goal to bring the team back within one after they allowed a powerplay goal from Ryan O’Reilly earlier.

    Even when Rask is playing well and putting points on the board, it feels like nothing good can come of it.

    Like a human monkey paw.

    But with his play in the third, he likely cemented a continued tryout as the pivot between Fiala and Marcus Johansson. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, let’s hope that Evason doesn’t keep trying it and stealing minutes away from players who deserve more ice time.

    With over two minutes remaining in the third period and still down 4-3, the equalizer felt inevitable. At no point did it feel like the Blues were much of a threat to tally an empty-netter to ice the game. And at no point did it feel like the tying goal would go to anyone other than the Thrill himself, Kirill Kaprizov.

    Fiala had himself quite the night, assisting on that goal and Rask’s, alongside a goal for himself. After tonight he’s got 35 points in 45 games, impressive considering the lack of center talent on this squad and the rotating cast he’s played with most of the year.

    Bless Kirill though.

    But sometimes when the Hockey Gods giveth, they also taketh away. And their presence is felt most during the firewagon hockey that is three on three overtime.After what felt like three and a half minutes of sustained pressure in the Blues zone, the puck found its way to a streak Ryan O’Reilly who put it past Talbot for the win.

    Final score 5-4 Blues.

    The bright spots from tonight were the continued dominance of Foligno/Eriksson Ek/Greenway, Kirill continuing to hunt those clutch moments, and maybe even Rask finding some chemistry with Fiala and Johansson.

    But this was a game that raised some questions about Dean Evason. Beyond the decision to play Talbot and Rask on the first line, it is baffling for Nico Sturm, Zach Parise, and Nick Bonino to only get around seven minutes of time on ice in a game that went past regulation. Evason did mention that there were banged-up bodies prior to puck drop, and they likely could be Parise and Bonino among them. But on a night where a player like Rask so obviously struggled for the first 40 minutes, it seems irrational to keep Sturm stapled to the bench instead of throwing him out there for a shift or two.

    There were mistakes made even before puck drop, but luckily — or not, depending on the outlook — Evason will have an opportunity to amend the transgressions in less than 24 hours.

    Burning Answers

    Can the fourth line return to prominence?

    Well, nope. However, they didn’t have much of an opportunity. They were the Wild’s worst line when on the ice, rocking an astounding 36% xGF. That number may be a little blown up based on how little they were out there, though, as they were only outshot 5-2 in attempts.

    I’m not sure what was up. They were terrible, yes, but their shifts were infrequent all night. They only saw one shift in the third period. I understand that they weren’t good, but there are opportunities to play line blender with this roster, as only the Foligno/Eriksson Ek/Greenway have proven themselves to be reliable. We don’t know for sure, but I suspect some lingering injuries hamper at least one of the three.

    Maybe three games in three nights aren’t the balm for those ailments either.

    Will Nick Bjugstad return to the lineup?

    He didn’t, although it was close. About as close as it can be in fact. He skated in warmups with the team, just in case someone opted out with an injury. He’s ready to go, as he was medically cleared to play today. But taking it slow seems like the right thing to do.

    The centers, outside of Eriksson Ek, are a mess. It’s tough to tell what you are going to get on a per game basis out of the likes of Rask, Sturm, Bonino or even Ryan Hartman. Once Bjugstad does draw in — likely tomorrow night — it will be nice to have another piece to try and solve the puzzle at center, even when it feels like you’ve got all the wrong pieces on some nights.

    Will the refs swallow their whistles?

    On a night where the rare instigator penalty gets called, you’d be surprised to find out they did. Outside of the Greenway/Bortuzzo and Foligno/Bortuzzo fights, only two penalties were called all night, one of which was a delay of game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass.

    Some credit may be handed to the reffing crew, but it didn’t feel like anything egregious was ignored. Both these teams seemed intent on playing focused hockey and regardless of the outcome, we were all better for it.



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