After blowing a chance to put the St. Louis Blues down 3-1, all while the home club missed significant pieces of their defensive core, the Central Division Semifinal returned to St. Paul. With Leddy and Bortuzzo slotting back into the lineup for St. Louis, the Minnesota Wild would need to work even harder to overcome their scoring woes and avoid letting Jordan Binnington, a new member of the series, get hot. The first four games resulted in a wash, so began a potential 3-game series where the Wild would hold home ice for two of the contests. With the “OPA” in the stands and a Fleury/Binnington matchup between the pipes, the game got underway.
After a missed trip on Kaprizov, Jacob Middleton shoved down Barbashev and put the Wild shorthanded just over four minutes into the game. After struggling to get offense from point shots in previous, St. Louis got a puck through and capitalized on the ensuing scrum. St. Louis earned their sixth powerplay goal of the series and claimed a 1-0 lead.
Minnesota did not respond as well as they had done throughout the year, with St. Louis continuing to dominate play after the goal. Between passed up shots and turnovers, Minnesota seemed to be making it as hard as they could on themselves. When Minnesota seemed to be picking up steam, Kaprizov took off on a breakaway. However, he missed the net, and the game remained a 1-0 St. Louis lead. With just under eight to go in the period, Leddy took an interference minor and put Minnesota on their first powerplay. After a disaster start, a Kaprizov missile from the top of the circles evened the score.
The importance of the goal could not be understated, as the Wild appeared completely flat until this point. When the puck hit the net, the Xcel Energy Center erupted, and the game once again seemed like a fair fight. After the goal, Minnesota’s physicality also skyrocketed, with Foligno laying an especially memorable hit on Mikkola. With 3:16 to go in the second, Robert Thomas slashed Kaprizov and sent the Wild to the man advantage once again. Just as he’s done all year, Kaprizov found a way to get it done again. After making several great plays with the puck, The Thrill found a gap in Binnington’s short side to give Minnesota the lead.
While Kaprizov was dominant, it would be crazy not to emphasize how important Foligno’s physicality was to the Wild’s momentum swing. He logged several great hits, including this one on Kyrou.
After the two powerplay goals from Kaprizov, the Wild transformed a 0-1 deficit to a 2-1 lead. A tale of two periods, with the first powerplay being a massive shift in the flow of the game.
The second, just like the first, did not start out in Minnesota’s favor. After both teams exchanged chances, Kaprizov was forced to take a penalty to prevent a puck being put in a yawning net.
Unlike their first kill, Minnesota was completely dominant and seemed to gain energy as the kill progressed. Minnesota continued their physicality from the first, forcing Blues defenders to pay the price every time they retrieved a puck.
After 15 minutes of mostly Minnesota-controlled second period hockey, St. Louis found an answer. Jordan Kyrou fired a puck towards the net, finding Saad’s stick to tie the contest.
With four entire games + 40 minutes played, the teams were still right where they started: dead even.
79% of winners of a 2-2 series Game 5 go on to win the series. Dead even after two, the team receiving statistical advantage would be determined in the final frame. St. Louis did not wait long to make their claim, catching Minnesota puck-watching and finding Tarasenko wide open in front. Completely deflating their building and losing their lead, it would be hard to script a worse start for the Wild.
Quickly, things got worse. Tarasenko beat Fleury short side clean, growing their lead to two. With the goal, Fleury had allowed 3 of his last 4 shots.
With most of the third still to work with, Minnesota had time to launch one of their famous comebacks. However, they didn’t seem to have the gas to do it. St. Louis controlled play for the minutes following the goal, silencing an already dejected Minnesota crowd.
Simply put, Minnesota had no answer for St. Louis parking the bus. Dump after dump, cycle after cycle, seconds ticked away on the potential Minnesota comeback. With just under four minutes left, the Wild pulled the goalie.
At the 93 second mark, Tarasenko put the puck in the empty net to earn the hat trick and end any remaining hope.
For a game that had such high hopes, this was a massive disappointment. After Brandon Saad tied the game midway through the second, the Wild were completely deflated. They returned to the ice for the third visibly not ready to play, allowing two goals and putting themselves out of the game before they even knew what hit them.
Frankly, this was a game that teams that win in the playoffs don’t have. Minnesota bounced back, had the crowd behind them, but let it all slip away after letting one goal kill their momentum. Now, they will be forced to win two in a row, with the first one coming in a hostile road environment Thursday night.
Will it be another blowout?
While the score difference was three, the game was closer than that for the majority. Minnesota held a one goal lead midway through the second, but quickly watched it turn into a two goal deficit for most of the third. With the empty net at the end, the lead grew to three.
So how about Kevin Fiala?
Aside from his early assist, Fiala was invisible. His poor series continued, with Minnesota’s other star, Kaprizov, having arguably his best game of the playoffs.
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