There isn’t much to say. Minnesota was handled on home ice by the Blues and their former head coach. Vladimir Tarasenko’s goal a little more than half-way through the third period on a passing play by Jaden Schwartz in front of Wild starter Devan Dubnyk would stand up as the game-winner.
Outside of an early power play by the Wild, there wasn’t much sustained pressure on Jake Allen most of the night. Sure, he made decent saves when he needed to, like a short-handed stop on Eric Staal on a breakaway. The Blues locked down the middle of the ice in a very familiar way (almost like we’ve seen it somewhere). David Perron scored midway through the first period. It was a very nice deflection in front of Dubnyk, that the Wild netminder ne’er had a chance on because there was no Wild defenseman to be found.
But the Minnesota has been here before. In fact, the Wild have one of the best winning percentages in the league when trailing first. The Wild would surely get on a roll and find the net, right?
The Blues forced the Wild into one-and-done scoring chances, and Allen hardly had to face the second and third tries. Minnesota did a swell job of letting the Blues take the scoring areas away. Not to mention, they engaged in the physicality and chippiness that the Blues are wont to do.
Overall, the Wild defended well as they only allowed 20 shots on goal as they continue to place a priority of protecting their all-star goaltender...even if there were 2 glaring breakdowns that resulted in goals against.
Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was looking for answers - really any kind of life from his squad. He tinkered with lines all evening and even mettled with the primal forces of nature by breaking up the Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund line. It was the first time since November 25th that that line has been changed up. “I wasn’t good enough to start the game and wasn’t winning any battles. I deserved every bit of that shuffling and I got to be better than that,” Jason Zucker said to Fox Sports North’s Kevin Gorg following the game. Zucker’s offensive zone game is predicated on using his speed and tenacity along the boards to force teams into bad giveaways that result into scoring chances. We didn’t see that tonight, but if his comments mean anything, we’ll hopefully see Zucker playing with more of an edge.
Mikko Koivu did break the shutout streak for Jake Allen with 10.5 ticks left on the clock and on the Wild’s 33rd shot of the game. It was a rock skipper of a shot from the neutral zone that bounced past Allen. It’s Koivu’s 18th of the season with the lone assist going to Ryan Suter.
Not going to lie, the amount of uncalled obstruction the past few games, going back to the Blue Jackets game, is maddening. Not sure if it’s the time of the year, or if the definition of a penalty changes, or if the officials are just really missing the calls, but each team ended with just one power play aside. There should have been more...a lot more. Top it off with the antics after the whistle that has gone uncalled, and for a team that already has some of the fewest power play opportunities in the league, it sure seems that that kind of frustration really gets to this Wild squad. They will absorb all the junk in between the whistles if it’ll get called. They’ll go to the trenches and battle at the front of the net they feel like the refs might actually look out for them. But as you see late in a game like Tuesday night versus the Blues, no one sets up in front of the net if cross checks to the back, holds, and slashes don’t even warrant a seat in the penalty box for the guilty parties involved.
And yeah, that’s likely how the playoffs will be - tough checking, bigger battles, and scoring to come at a premium. It’s not so much this team isn’t physical, or they’re soft, or cant play that game, but the frustration that this team exhibits when clear penalties a month ago are now not getting called. Minnesota will have to build up some mental fortitude when that happens. A team like the Blues, coached by a guy that loves his structure will take away the home plate area in front of the net 10-out-of-10 times, and if the Wild is frustrated by non-calls and then gives up on going to the trenches, then the playoffs may not be long for Minnesota.
The Wild will now head out to the east coast and take on the Tampa Bay Lightning and Panthers on back-to-back nights in Florida. Stick around as Hockey Wilderness will be your home for Wild coverage.
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