We found out last night what happens when an unstoppable force meets a fairly movable object.
In Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild trio of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Marcus Foligno, could not do one thing wrong. From the drop of the puck they were pushing hard against their opposition, and never letting up.
We should be used to this by now, but this forward line is just playing the exactly style of hockey that makes every appreciator of grinding out a goal all gooey-eyed. It might not be the prettiest, it will certainly not get on any national highlight reel, and it might not even end up with goals being scored; but they are completely content with punishing whichever team they are facing and it just so happens that the Blues cratered at just the thought of the three of them barreling down the ice towards them.
The players themselves don’t even expect goals to come out of their efforts, but voiding any effort from the opposing players is good enough for them.
“The majority of the season, we usually play against the other team’s top line, and not only do we go out there and not allow them to score 5-on-5, we go out and produce and get a couple goals,” Greenway said after the 5-1 win that put the Wild up 2-1 in the first-round series. “It’s obviously a bonus, but at the same time, we expect to do that. We set high standards for ourselves. If we go out there thinking defense the whole time, it’s going to be tough to play.”
As the visitors with the series tied, they simply showed up and managed to score just 39 seconds into the game as a result of the powerful forecheck causing an odd-man rush almost immediately.
The line even had their opponents and division rivals complimenting them. Everybody loves some GREEF in their life.
“They’re obviously very effective,” Blues center Ryan O’Reilly said. “They played great tonight. They’re big, they’re physical, they come at you at all angles.”
And it might have been a theme last night, but head coach Dean Evason seemed to love to start the periods with this line on the ice — to set the tempo and expectation, no doubt. Both times they did that they were rewarded. Thirty-nine seconds into the first, and then in the third, Eriksson Ek got the fourth goal of the game and his third of the playoffs just 22 seconds into the final frame.
If you want to imagine a perfectly-crafted trio of players that work seamlessly together, it seems to be these dudes.
“I faced them last year in the playoffs (with Vegas) and remember how good they were,” Wild netminder Marc-Andre Fleury said. “They’re gritty, they’re heavy, they play defensively and everybody comes back to help in the d-zone. They put the puck deep, they cycle and they keep the puck there, create some chaos around the net. They’ve scored some huge goals for us.”
In my humble opinion, this is Perfect Hockey. They clearly do have the ability to rifle a puck essentially through the twine, but before they do that, they will make the opponent feel hopeless and helpless. Not even just with the hits they hand out, but it’s just the way that they are able to shrink the ice to almost a molecular level for any opponent in possession — pressing in a forceful way that will lead to only success for Minnesota. If there is one thing you can depend on, it is this line getting the better of chances and they did exactly that in Game 3; earning 61.54 percent of the shot attempt share and 87.73(!) percent of the expected goals share.
They are punishing and they can play against anybody, and that’s by design.
“We don’t worry about matchups because we want everyone to play against anybody,” Evason said after the game.
You almost feel bad for whichever players Blues coach Craig Berube is going to throw out against that line on Sunday. But, alas, it will be a hell of a Game 4.
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