The Minnesota Wild have two capable scoring lines, one of the best defensive lines in hockey, and a very strong D-core that can play both sides of the puck. We have seen them dominate 5-on-5 all season, but special teams remain their Achilles' Heel.
Even in the regular season, the Xcel Energy Center is a notoriously rowdy arena. But it cranks up to another level in the playoffs. However, those screams became increasingly faint as the St. Louis Blues shut out the Wild at the X in Game 1.
Special teams were the story of Game 1. The Wild went 0-6 on the power play, and 4-6 on the penalty kill, with a third goal trickling in seconds after a penalty expired. The Blues completely shut down Minnesota’s power play and mostly forced shots from the perimeter.
[caption id=attachment_124610" align="alignnone" width="2488] Wild Game 1 PP, Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick[/caption]
Conversely, this means St. Louis’ special teams went 2 for 6 on the power play and 6 for 6 on the penalty kill. They were, without doubt, the deciding factor of the game. The Blues were able to capitalize on a power play to open the scoring. Combine that with Ville Husso's brilliance, and the game was pretty much over from there.
Game 2 was a completely different story. The Wild went 2-3 on the power play and 4-5 on the penalty kill. Minnesota responded exactly how fans wanted them to and thumped the Blues 6-2, led by a Kirill Kaprisov hat-trick and two big goals from Joel Eriksson Ek.
This time, the Wild capitalized on their first power play when Freddy Gaudreau scored on the game's second shot to make it 2-0. Then Kaprizov scored on the power play with 54 seconds left in the first period to make it 3-0 for Minnesota after 20 minutes.
The power play looked much better. The Wild were able to get pucks on Husso, and St. Louis didn’t keep them on the perimeter like in Game 1. Jordan Kyrou was responsible for the only blemish on the Wild’s penalty kill in the second period. He scored a powerplay goal to cut the lead to two.
[caption id=attachment_124612" align="alignnone" width="2506] Game 2 Blues PP, Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick[/caption]
A team’s best penalty killer is often their goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury proved that on Wednesday night – he was outstanding. Fleury made some crucial saves on the penalty kill, including a sliding pad save on Brayden Schenn to maintain a two-goal lead.
The rest of the Wild’s penalty kill looked great, too. They stepped up when Eriksson Ek and Jonas Brodin, arguably 2 of their best penalty killers, were in the box. They were blocking shots, getting sticks in passing lanes, and clearing pucks 200 feet. It was a complete turnaround from Game 1.
It is clear the Wild got the message from the booing fans after Game 1. They came ready to play in Game 2 despite not having a shot on goal in the first nine-and-a-half minutes of the game.
So far, the power play and penalty kill have been deciding factors in this series. If the Wild can build off their dominating Game 2 win, then there is no doubt they can take this series.