There are few games in Minnesota Wild history that have felt like more of a thud than Monday night’s playoff debut against the St. Louis Blues. Home ice, arguably the best regular season in franchise history in countless metrics, one (arguably two) superstars on the roster, and a fresh lineup following trade deadline acquisitions all seemed to be meaningless after a glimpse of the typical playoff Wild reared their ugly head. Some season long issues also took center stage, with their worst special teams showing of the year being the headline story.
However, despite what the game felt like, it only counted for one loss in the series. Wednesday’s matchup was Minnesota’s final chance to capitalize on home ice before a two game trip to St. Louis. With Fleury remaining in the pipes (a surprise to many) and Kulikov being swapped out for Goligoski, the Wild looked to break their terrible stretch against St. Louis and return the series to even.
Despite booing the team at the end of game one, the home crowd returned as loud as before at the opening faceoff. Minnesota seemed to feed off the crowd, getting off to an aggressive start on their first few shifts. However, St. Louis put together a few dangerous shifts in response, hitting a post in the process. Just like game one, the physicality did not miss a beat. Kevin Fiala was leveled behind the net by Brayden Schenn, with Deslauriers quickly attempting to stand up for the star. Schenn did not oblige him and the game continued.
The second quarter of the first period was all St. Louis, with Minnesota still shot-less as the period approached the halfway mark. Any time Minnesota got in the offensive zone was forced to the perimeter, making quality offense nearly impossible. As every second ticked by, St. Louis two-man-high forecheck seemed to suffocate Minnesota in their own zone. Just as they’ve done all year, the GREEF line found a way to change the momentum. After a St. Louis defender broke his stick and created a turnover, Joel Eriksson Ek put the first shot of the game past Husso.
Soon after, Kaprizov drew the game’s first powerplay after being high sticked by Minnesota native Justin Faulk. The inconsistent Minnesota powerplay would get their first chance of the night. After the first unit was stopped, a great neutral zone entry by the second unit followed by great puck movement resulted in a 2-0 lead for Minnesota.
St. Louis came roaring back the following shift, earning a short 3-1 that ended with a great shoulder save by Fleury. The 2-0 lead was preserved. Minnesota would be tested on the penalty kill soon after, after Eriksson Ek took an offensive zone interference penalty. After some good killing and some even better saves by Fleury, the teams returned to even strength.
With 2:05 left in the first, Minnesota earned their second powerplay of the game as Faulk committed a slashing infraction, once again, on Kaprizov. While the second unit got it done on the first powerplay, the first unit responded for the second powerplay goal of the night. In a play that mirrored a miraculous save by Husso on Monday night, the Wild found a way to put the puck behind the St. Louis net-minder in a goalmouth scrum. Kaprizov was given the goal after the referees rules that Husso knocked the puck in himself.
After a very poor start, it’s hard to imagine a better final 10 minutes of the first. After not registering a shot in the first half of the period, the Wild found themselves with a 3-0 lead heading into the intermission.
The Wild wasted no time in the second, growing their lead to four just under a minute into the period. Eriksson Ek got his third point, and second goal, of the night with a beautiful toe drag around Husso.
Soon after the goal, Toropchenko ran over Fleury, but the penalty was negated by Goligoski. Just as the 4-on-4 expired, Schenn took a tripping penalty on Hartman. Unlike the first two attempts, the Wild were held scoreless. Minnesota responded with an interference minor assessed to Matt Boldy. St. Louis would have a chance to decrease the lead. Unlike game one, their penalty kill was able to come up big again, thanks to more great saves from Fleury.
Shortly after, Brodin was whistled for a hold and the Wild were forced to kill again. Unlike the previous attempts, St. Louis was able to convert and shrink the lead to three.
Just after the goal, Dumba flipped a puck out in the defensive zone. Despite protests from the Blues bench, the refs decided it hit a stick. However, the Wild continued taking penalties anways, with Fiala being forced to drag Mikkola down on an odd man rush. A great kill by Brodin, Gaudreau, Dumba and Hartman kept the lead at three. After splitting goals, Minnesota entered the second intermission up three.
At the beginning of the third, it was announced Robert Bortuzzo would not return. With that, St. Louis would be down 3/6 of their typical top-six. Matt Dumba was also visibly playing with pain, seeming to irritate the upper body injury that kept him out for a significant portion of the end of the year.
St. Louis refused to go away without a fight. Just under five minutes into the third, Tarasenko beat Fleury and reduced the lead to two. Minnesota needed to wake up, or risk watching their lead vanish from in front of their eyes. Just when things seemed to be getting bad, an Eriksson Ek tripping penalty made them worse. St. Louis would have a chance to cut what once was a four goal lead to one. Thanks to a post and a great save by Fleury, Minnesota killed the penalty and the Xcel Energy Center erupted. It didn’t take long for Minnesota to capitalize on the momentum gained from the crowd. A Zuccarello and Kaprizov 2-on-1 resulted in Kaprizov’s second tally of the night.
Less than a minute later, Eriksson Ek scored to grow the lead to four and earn the hat trick. However, it was challenged by Berube and reversed. Unfortunately for Wild fans that threw their hats, it was all for nothing.
A skirmish between Eriksson Ek and Thomas, where the latter crosschecked the former, (somehow) resulted in a 4-on-4. St. Louis pulled the goalie, but Kaprizov quickly scored to earn his hat trick. This time, far fewer hats fell on the ice. With the goal, Minnesota grew their lead to 6-2.
With the goal, Minnesota was able to settle back and defend the lead. Fleury made a few more good saves, while the bottom six continued to forecheck hard, including this great hit by Jost (who had an awesome game).
With under two minutes left, Brayden Schenn took a clean run at Jost, causing a scrum that sent Parayko and Duhaime to the box for another 4-on-4. With no goals being scored, the Wild ended their home stand with a 6-2 victory. The series now heads to St. Louis for Game 3 on Friday.
Can the Wild stay out of the box?
Minnesota didn’t do a great job staying out of the box, finding themselves shorthanded five times. However, only conceding one goal, the kill was significantly better.
Will the lineup changes (or lack thereof) be noticeable?
While Goligoski had a solid game, the big story here was Fleury. Making 32 saves on 34 shots, including a few great ones on the kill, Fleury undoubtedly played a huge role in the win.
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