Early goals in this series have been killer. That same trend held true Minnesota’s 3-1 loss to the Blues in Game 3. St. Louis got on the board early and then they let Jake Allen take over.
And he did everything.
Outside of not stopping a Charlie Coyle shot, Allen thwarted the Wild’s insistence to dump-n-chase by acting like a third defenseman back in his zone. Oh, and he also made saves - a bunch of them. He turned away 40 shots in the win, while Devan Dubnyk at the other end allowed three goals on 31 shots. So much was made about Minnesota getting to the front of the net, but even when they do, Allen has just been too good to beat.
The first period was really the only period you needed to know how the rest of the game was going to go. Minnesota, a team that needed to be on the scoreboard first, was betrayed by their goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Colton Parayko’s shot at the top of the circles found twine over Dubnyk’s glove not even 4 minutes into the game. Ryan Suter wasn’t good on his gap. He wouldn’t be able to get away with that kind of gap on Tarasenko, and it should forgiven for giving that much up against a defenseman.
But the Wild were clearly rattled after the softy. Suter was forced into a hooking minor when he (hardy) put his stick on something called Zach Sanford. The following penalty kill was a mess. It was a lot of running around, few clears, and lots of good looks for the Blues, including a shot off the post. That said, Minnesota did kill the penalty.
The forecheck just never came back. Jake Allen is just flat-out too good at playing the puck and killed the dump-n-chase before it ever had a chance to begin. On top of that, the Wild couldn’t connect a series of passes together to make a play, let alone offer a clean shot on net. It’s been a terrible trend for the Wild for a number of years with only small stretches of games where it appears like it’s on par with the rest of the league. Miss-fires, bobbled receptions, pucks in skates, chest-high passes, and an insistence to use the boards all figure into the popular algebraic equation of NOT SCORING ANY GOALS! It’s been a bad trend through March and in this series, it’s reared its ugly head, but it’s been a problem for a number of years now.
Sure, credit should be given the Blues too. They’ve been all over the Wild’s game plan since early March and it’s made it hard to do much of anything offensively. Sticks in passing lanes, pressure, and bodies in shooting lanes proved to plague the Wild time and time again.
The second period didn’t have much difference. The Wild still insisted on dumping the puck in from center ice, and Allen made it easy for breakouts the other way for the Blues. The bad passing continued. Eric Staal had a glorious 2-on-1 chance with Zach Parise wide open, but the saucer pass was disrupted buy the stick of a prone Blues defender. Parise took a cross check to the back and drew penalty. However, the power play had a hard time getting set up, a hard time connecting passes, and few bodies in front. It’s next-to-impossible to break the defensive shell of the Blues when they have the lead, but when the Wild can’t get to the front of the net, they’re not even giving themselves a chance in hell.
The second power play of the period for the Wild was better. There was more urgency with better looks. However, there was more over-passing, and it featured a flashy glove save by Jake Allen. The St. Louis crowd reacted to the save like someone just got #posterized. The power play did turn the momentum of play a bit towards the Wild’s favor as Martin Hanzal had a chance off the back wall. Charlie Coyle was stopped on a redirect attempt. Finally, the Wild got to the middle of the ice with Staal and Coyle going to the net. Coyle tapped a rebound in over Allen for the tying tally. It was on Minnesota’s 20th shot on goal.
Coyle becomes the Wild’s first goal scorer not named Zach Parise in series. He had a plethora of chances and shots in Game 1, was arguably the Wild best presence in Game 2, and finally cracks through in Game 3.
A minute and 13 seconds after Coyle’s goal, Ryan White gave Jaden Schwartz a stick to the mug, which drew a two minute minor. Schwartz would get the ultimate revenge by sneaking the puck in between the pad of Dubnyk and the left post on the power play. As quickly as the Wild got back into the game, a terrible penalty gave the game back, just like that.
The Minnesota Wild power play couldn’t do what the power play did for the Blues - make a difference. They had a chance at the end of the second period to tie, but Ryan Suter was too busy drop passing to Kyle Brodziak instead. In the third period, the Wild had yet another chance with the man-advantage at 4:47 of the period, but that was yet another waste.
The Wild doubled up the Blues in shots 19-8 in the final 20 minutes, but could not find the equalizer. Mike Yeo’s system was in full force all series long. It’s a system that looks to frustrate opponents and box them out. Couple it with a scorching hot goaltender, and this is what happens - three goals in three games total for the Minnesota Wild. Alexander Steen iced the game with his first of the series at 18:49. The empty-net goal was the Blues’ first of the series, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for them. It was tip at the blue line by Jay Bouwmeester that sprung Berglund and Steen on a 2-on-1 that was scored as Steen crossed the center red line.
The decisive Game 4 will be Wednesday in St. Louis and another late 8:30 (more like 8:45) start. The Wild officially have their collective backs against the wall and they need to be the cornered animal and take some bites out of their assailants. (Ok, that was a mash-up of too many cliches, but I think it worked). Let’s hope we get more hockey.