After the sky-high win in Game 2, it’s only natural that the Minnesota Wild came crashing back to earth.
It was a rough night, and some ordinarily reliable pieces that have driven the Wild’s success this season were missing in action. The GREEF line — Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway — was ineffective on both ends of the ice. Kevin Fiala’s tire-fire post-season continued, and Marc-André Fleury was merely ordinary in net. To say that the Wild played poorly is one thing, but it doesn’t undercut how well the St. Louis Blues executed. Especially the increasingly irritating Jordan Kyrou, who got the scoring started.
A few bounces and ricochets, and it lands right at Kyrou’s feet with a gaping net ahead. Kyrou was a force tonight, with two goals, five shots, and seven attempts in 17:42 of ice time. He was buzzing when the Blues weren't and was leading the charge when they were.
Following the goal, Fiala’s parade of misfortunes began, starting with a double-minor high sticking call that — if you look closely — was actually the fault of the Blues’ defenceman Nikko Mikkola. He lifts Fiala’s stick with his own, but the referees didn’t catch it.
With an impressive four-minute penalty kill, the Wild escaped the wrath of whatever curse has been placed on Fiala for the time being. Early in the game, there were flashes of excellence from the Wild’s defensemen, including this massive play from Jonas Brodin to save a sure goal.
The defensive highlights were in high supply for the Wild.
Alex Goligoski made a huge play to stop the Blues on an odd-man rush, and Matt Dumba also made a massive kick-clear to keep the puck out of the back of the net.
Near the end of the first period, it felt like the Wild would suffocate under the pressure of the Blues’ attack, with Fleury the only thing keeping the game close. But you can always rely on Kirill Kaprizov to keep the Wild in it. Kirill did just that after some solid work down low from Jared Spurgeon.
The Wild’s systemic commitment to having defensemen active in the offense and on the forecheck has been paying dividends all year.
At the end of the first period, the Wild were still in it, but it felt like they wouldn’t be for long if they didn’t make some serious adjustments.
Have we mentioned the curse on Kevin Fiala already?
For the first half of the second period, the Blues and Wild seemed content to trade chances, but in a flash — which can be measured as precisely 54 seconds — the Blues took control of the game.
Fleury can’t take the blame for either goal. It was a weird bounce off a clearing attempt from Nick Foligno to make it 2-1, and Kyrou cut through the Wild defense like a hot knife through butter to make it 3-1.
It was more of the same for the remainder of the second, the Blues offense abusing the Wild and Fleury just barely keeping it all together. At the end of 40 minutes, shots were even at 14 apiece, but the quality disparity of those shots felt massive.
To begin the third, some hope. Matt Boldy, the 21-year-old winger who has done nothing but surprise and surpass expectations this season, scores his first of many career playoff goals to bring the Wild within one.
Surely spurned on by the rousing speech head coach Dean Evason gave in the locker room during intermission, followed by the quick goal from the promising rookie, would help turn the game around.
Final score was 5-2 for the Blues’ following a couple of empty-net goals.
There weren’t many positives to take away from the game tonight. The Kaprizov line was good, and the Blues’ team continues to lose defencemen at an alarming rate — Marco Scandella left the game with a lower-body injury after only 1:34 of ice time. The Blues are forced to rely on unproven guys like Mikkola and run their other options into the ground (Justin Faulk logged over 31 minutes tonight).
If a seven-game series is a war of attrition, the Blues’ are losing it.
Do we see more of MY president, Joel Eriksson Ek’s utter playoff domination?
Oh no. Not even close.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say this may have been one of the worst games the GREEF line has played in nearly two years. Uncharacteristic and unlikely to be repeated, but it happened all the same. Eriksson Ek had only two shots on net, and the GREEF line was somehow the Wild’s worst. There were only two shots on net as a line in 8:04 of even-strength hockey and they were on the ice for the David Perron goal.
A stormy night, don’t let it happen again.
Will the Blues try to hit their way to a win tonight?
Hits were pretty close to 21-20 in favor of the Blues — and it didn’t feel like a weighty game. The Blues played it cleanly, and it might have to do with being forced into playing some defensemen for nearly half the game.
It was a bit of a surprise, although I don't think it was a part of why the Wild lost tonight.
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