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  • The Minnesota Wild Stuck to Their System and Dominated Vancouver Defensively in Game 1

    Giles Ferrell

    Kevin Fiala, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Hartman and Alex Stalock. Those are a few of the names you might consider as the best Minnesota Wild players on the ice in Game 1, making the difference in Minnesota's 3-0 win over Vancouver on Sunday night.


    But when you take a closer look at this game, you find that the Wild defense absolutely was an unsung hero in this game, as they completely dominated the Canucks and their stars such as Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser.


    The Canucks trio was held to just five shots on goal -- Vancouver finished with a team total of 28 -- and those shots never felt like they were premium scoring chances that they were accustomed to.


    How did the Wild shut Vancouver's young stars down? It was simply sticking to their system, of course. Following the game Marcus Foligno told the media that "[The Wild] wanted to be the team that plays smart." Well, smart was absolutely how the Wild and their defense played, as they forced the Canucks to take shots from outside the danger area all night.


    In fact, the Canucks were just limited to five shot attempts in the high danger area all evening. Five. Yes, you read that right. Five.


    Here's the proof:


    [caption id=attachment_70223" align="alignnone" width="1200]Shot-Chart.png via evolving-hockey.com[/caption]


    Quite literally, the Canucks were forced to take their shot attempts from above the faceoff dots. This is a feat that you rarely see in a regular-season game, but the Wild were able to pull this feat off in a postseason game to set the tone in Game 1.


    Going back to the Canucks' big three, you can also see their shot selection was less than ideal over the 60 minutes:


    [caption id=attachment_70225" align="alignnone" width="1094]Shot-Chart-Close-Up.png via evolving-hockey.com[/caption]


    To break it down even more, Minnesota was getting its best defenders out on the ice against Vancouver once they got in the driver's seat after Fiala's opening goal. Pettersson played half of his night, 19:37 of total time on ice, against the Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon pairing. The other half came against the Matt Dumba - Jonas Brodin pairing. Just a modest two minutes on the ice against the Wild's third pair of Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt. All pairs, however, did their job to shut down the star forward.


    [caption id=attachment_70227" align="alignnone" width="803]Pettersson-Event-Map.png via Natural Stat Trick[/caption]


    The same goes for Boeser, as he often had to get matched up with the Wild's top two defensive pairings, but also had to deal with the blossoming defensive stalwart in Joel Eriksson Ek, who had the most ice time of any Minnesota player on Sunday night against Boeser, playing 10:25 against the Burnsville native.


    [caption id=attachment_70228" align="alignnone" width="803]Boeser-Event-Map.png via Natural Stat Trick[/caption]


    Hughes also fell into that trap of often getting matched up with the Wild's top defenders. Because he is a defenseman, he got plenty of time on the ice against Soucy and Hunt, but he was not productive against them. All the pairings shut him down, and Hughes -- aside from maybe J.T. Miller -- was the Canucks player who caused the most damage to the Wild during the regular season.


    [caption id=attachment_70229" align="alignnone" width="803]Hughes-Event-Map.png via Natural Stat Trick[/caption]


    The Wild defense in this game was so stifling, the Sportsnet -- Vancouver's regional right's holder -- intermission crew was very complimentary of the display the Wild were putting on. Brian Burke provided a more X's and O's detail of how Minnesota was keeping the Canucks at bay Sunday night.


    [videopress cYuQvfrl]


    When accounting for all this, there is no denying that Minnesota's defense was the unsung hero in Game 1. Keeping the Canucks' talented young players off the scoreboard and even off the shot chart was impressive and will have to be replicated again to some extent if the Wild want to come away with the series win.


    Should the Wild get out ahead in Game 2, it's very possible they put down the clamps defensively again and find a way to get a 2-0 series lead.

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