Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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For the second year in a row, the Wild is among the final eight NHL teams standing.
For the third straight year, the Wild will have to get by the Chicago Blackhawks in order to advance.
We have a ton of content that will be in Monday’s newspaper and startribune.com/wild, and here's a list of that stuff:
I will really start to delve into advancing the conference semifinals against the Blackhawks in Tuesday’s paper. As you know, the Wild has been eliminated the past two postseasons by the Hawks, so you know the Wild would love a third stab at one of the NHL’s elite.
Tons of weapons on the Hawks from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad to Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook.
Their biggest weapon traditionally against the Wild is Bryan Bickell, so maybe that will end up being this series, “Will you shadow” Player X question posed to Mike Yeo when availability begins Tuesday (the Wild has its first full day off since the playoffs began Monday).
I say that only half-kiddingly.
The schedule isn’t out yet. Originally if this Wild-Blues series went to Game 7 (oh, did I tell you yet the Wild won, 4-1, tonight?), Game 1 of the next series was supposed to start Friday, I was told. I’m not sure if it’ll be the same now that this series ended. We shall see, hopefully Monday.
Big win for the Wild in a strange series with little momentum, no one-goal games, no overtimes and the Wild outplaying the Blues for the much of the series (except for Game 4, of course).
Mike Yeo made many bars run out of Bloody Mary mix, the Wild ended up finally clinching a series before Game 7 and for the first time won a series in front of their appreciative home crowd of almost 20K strong.
The Blues will have big changes now that they lost in the first round for a third consecutive season. You can bet on that.
Since I listed the articles above, I’m going to mostly dump some quotes here if you don’t mind.
By the way, I will be on Rosen’s Sports Sunday tonight at 10:30 on Ch. 4 with Paul Allen and Monday morning at 9:15 I will be in studio with Paul at KFAN for awhile.
Zach Parise, who scored two goals and two assists in last year’s Game 6 of the first round to help force a Game 7, scored twice tonight (today, but I’m still here).
The game got off to a terrific start for the Wild. It was all Minnesota in a first period the Wild outshot the Blues, 10-4. With the Wild shorthanded, Matt Cooke knocked Paul Stastny off the puck in the Wild end.
Kevin Shattenkirk was surprised to get the puck, couldn’t control it and turned it over to Parise, who burst out of the defensive zone.
Going 1 vs. 3, Parise hustled past Shattenkirk, through the left circle and almost to the goal line near the left corner when he fired from the odd angle to beat Jake Allen for the seven shorthanded goal in Wild history and a 1-0 lead.
In the third, with Brian Elliott in after Justin Fontaine’s eventual winning goal forced Allen out of the game, Parise scored again 61 seconds into the third – a great response to T.J. Oshie scoring with 3.4 seconds left in the second.
Like he did in Game 3, Mikael Granlund blew by Vladimir Tarasenko in the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush. He gave the puck to linemate Jason Pominville, who fired. Elliott left the rebound in the crease and Parise scored his 29th career playoff goal and tied Marian Gaborik for the franchise all-time lead with 22 playoff points.
“It feels good to contribute, and win, most importantly, to be a part of that win,” Parise said. “It was a tough game, and they made a really good push in the second period. We talked before the game about being patient and waiting for our opportunities, and I thought we did a good job.”
These quotes will all be Parise:
On closing out the series: “Any time you can get extra rest, that's important. Closing out series is always hard. You expect the opposition to bring a great game and a tough game, and they did that tonight. But like I said, it's always the hardest thing getting that fourth one. Fortunate we were able to do that tonight and not have to go back to St. Louis.”
On being on the big stage: “There's a lot of hockey stuff in play, but I think any athlete wants to be a part of the big-stage games. Any athlete wants to be involved in the game and take part in it. From top to bottom, I think all of our guys did a really good job.”
On his shorty: “I thought when Shattenkirk came at me rather than backing off, I thought I had good body position on him and was able to get around him. I figured I would at least try to get a shot or try to make something happen.”
Message now: “Don't get me wrong. It's great for us to win and beat a really good St. Louis team, and we should enjoy it, and enjoy it for a couple days and now look forward to our series against Chicago. That's a team that's knocked us out for the last couple years, so we've got to be ready for them.”
On the first line: “I thought we had our moments. I'd like for us to -- I think we can get some more offensive-zone time, but against these guys, that's tough. We were able to capitalize on some rushes. But we had games where we played well. We had games where we could've been better. We were able to get some big goals for our team, and that's what we're supposed to do.”
Is he rubbing off on teammates with his relentlessness: “You'll have to ask them, but I try to be a lead-by-example type of guy and type of player. Hopefully, that stuff is contagious and rubs off”
Confidence of team: “We've been playing like that for a long time. The way we rebounded after a really tough Game 4, to go back into St. Louis, a tough place, and win a game there, give ourselves a chance to win the series. It's a hard thing to do, and I thought we rebounded really well.”
Resilience: “We've been doing that for a long time. We haven't really had a lot of room. We've been playing in tight games. We've been playing in games, for a long time, that we've had to win, so we're comfortable doing that. But the fourth one's always hardest. You expect a great game from the other team, and we did well to capitalize when we had some chances tonight.”
On his fist pump, fist pump, punch of glass, flyby celebration on second goal: “I was really excited. I was really happy after that one, just with them getting the late one in the second. We wish we would've been able to come in here after the second up 2-0, and unfortunately they got a little life. We were able to get one right away. I was pretty pumped up.”
Jason Pominville quotes: “Obviously got a bounce on it. We got a couple bounces on ours. Twenty minutes at home to find a way to get into the next round, up by one, I think we would have taken that any time of the year, especially three months ago when you look at where we were and we stuck with it, found a way and obviously we’re pretty excited about it.”
Remarkable where you were in January- “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I think we definitely made some strides. We’ve been playing some better hockey. We’ve been better as we’ve been moving along, which is a good sign going into the playoffs. But this is one step and we’ve got to keep looking at what’s ahead of us and we’ve got a chance to play a team that we’ve seen quite a bit in recent years. Hopefully this time’s the right one.”
Way you played them in playoffs give you confidence- “They’re a tough team to play against. Just look at last night, they’re down by three with less than 10 minutes into the game and they find a way to bounce back into it. They’ve got a lot of firepower. They can defend. They do a lot of good things. It’s not going to be easy, but obviously taking notes on what we did last year. It’s a different year, but we know we can play with those guys. Hopefully, like I said, this is the year.”
Watch them last night- “I watched on and off, but I saw the comeback. I didn’t see the first three goals and then I kind of saw them getting back into the game and I stopped watching after that.”
Different style from Blues- “It will be a different type of game. Their speed, their counterattack, their skill is definitely in the top of the league, so it’s going to be a little bit different. Not to take anything away from these guys, they’re big, they’re physical, but they definitely have some guys that can make you pay too if you make a mistake. It’s going to be a battle.”
Confidence is high, seems you’re ready to do something – “Yeah, hopefully. We’ve had to be ready for a little while now just to get in. We got in feeling good about our game and kind of snowballed effect through the first round. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Now that we’re past first one, we got to look at what’s ahead of us. But knowing that we’ve played these guys the last couple of years, it’s not going to be easy. They’re a good team. They’re an elite team. They’ve proven it. We got to be up for the task.”
Devan Dubnyk quotes:
Response after late goal in second? “Obviously it would have been nice to go into the third with a two-goal lead instead. But that’s a great part of this group. Nobody was upset in between periods. We were still in a great situation and we were playing good hockey. There was nothing really said after the period and nothing needed to be said. We knew we had to go out and do a job. For us to go out there and score a goal right away just shows you that we were not going to sit back and we were going to come out and go get it. That makes it a little easier to finish off.”
Story continues? “It’s awesome. I was thinking about it over the last couple days. It just feels right. It feels right for our group to be where we are and to continue to move forward. That’s why it’s easy to go out and play and feel like we’re going to win because we’ve done it all year. Hopefully we can continue doing that.”
Reaction from fans? “No surprise how loud it was going to get today. We just stick to our plan and they push us and cheer us on for every little play that we do. It’s such a smart crowd and a crowd that understands hockey. They cheer every single play and it motivates you to keep going.
Mike Yeo quotes:
On the Oshie goal: “That is something that could be a backbreaker for your team. Emotionally, you start thinking oh no, we just blew a two-goal lead and the next thing you know you start hanging on too much. I like the way we regrouped. I like the way we came out in the third period. I didn’t think our second period was particularly good. We turned some pucks over and we weren’t quite as tight as we normally were that allowed them to come at us a little bit more. So we were in a little bit of survival mode, and so you give up that one at the end of the period, that could be kind of an emotional blow, but the guys responded the right way and third goal was huge for us.”
On Parise: I’ll start by giving him an unbelievable amount of credit that he deserves, that that whole line deserves. But again, this is a time for guys certainly to be recognized individually but also collectively as a group. Every guy put in everything that we needed them to. We said that before the game, we can’t have any regrets here, we have to leave it all out there on the ice. And I thought our guys did that. that’s a great team. It’s a great accomplishment what we just did. By all means, everybody feels the same way, we’re not done. But that’s a heck of a hockey team, a very well-coached hockey team. You have to fight for every inch out there. To be here and start getting ready for the second round is a great accomplishment for our group.
When did you decide to put Parise back on the PK (read the Fontaine-led notebook to understand why I asked this): “He’s a great penalty-killer, and right now, we can’t be just making decisions on trying to be safe. We have to do what we have to do to win hockey games and every moment is critical. He’s a great penalty-killer and we’ve seen from him.”
The play Matt Cooke made on that goal: “He had a really good game, I thought that line played a really strong game. We gave them some tough matchups. We counted on them in some defensive matchup roles and they saw every line out there. They had a real good purpose in how they were going to play and what their identity was and that was definitely a key line for us tonight.”
thoughts on what it means for franchise: Again, I said it’s a great accomplish. I think winning at home, it’s the first time we’ve ever done that, that was something that was very important to our group, to win in front of our fans. Obviously you don’t want to go back and play that team in a Game 7 in their building. We knew that. But again, it meant a lot to us to try to win this game in front of our fans. They deserved that tonight. But it’s a good accomplishment. Three straight years we’ve been to the playoffs and a couple of years now that we’ve won a round, but nobody’s satisfied with that. We weren’t last year, and we’re even less this year. I think that’s a good thing. But we know that we’re up against a tough challenge in the next round as well.
facing Chicago: Well they beat us the last couple years so I think that we maybe played a little bit better last year, but we came up on the short end. So we have to find a way to be better.
what mean to you to coach this team: Well, first off, it starts with leadership and for me, certainly, I feel like I’m a lucky guy. But that’s not just me; it’s my entire staff. I’m lucky because I’m well-surrounded by my staff. But our leadership group is outstanding. We’ve got a bunch of guys; I consider them leaders. They’re willing to do the little things that go unnoticed. They’re willing to do those things to win hockey games. There’s a lot of pride in that room.
Fontaine, his maturity: A lot of composure in his game. If you’re going to protect a lead, you have to be good defensively and be in good position. He does all of those things. But you can’t defend all the time, too, especially against a team like that. The more we can get to the offensive zone, the more we can execute through the neutral zone, he does those things. He seems to make the smart play, the right play with the puck every time he gets it, and he’s a threat. He gives you the option. Obviously you can call him a checking line, but he has the ability to make plays. We’ve used him in more scoring situations or roles this year, and he’s come through for us. He’s certainly a very versatile player.
On Dubnyk: The story continues. That’s what we’re hoping for here, and I think there’s more to this story, but his play was outstanding. Again, that team challenges you. They challenge you in a lot of different ways, get a lot of pucks to the net, and I think as much as anything, it’s sort of his demeanor that trickles through to the rest of the group. There was a play in the third period where they got forecheck pressure, and he kind of hangs on to the puck and shows some unreal composure with the puck. That kind of stuff, that’s contagious to the group. When your goalie’s playing confident, when the heat is on, I think that the rest of the group feeds off that.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock kept it short in the postgame press conference. When asked to name the biggest factor in the series loss, he said the Blues “probably got into (their) A game a little bit late,’’ praising them for their play over the final three games after the slow start to the series.
His team, Hitchcock said, lacked the timely scoring and timely saves that are mandatory for playoff success. The Blues scored only 14 goals in the series, with Vladimir Tarasenko getting six of those. The second- through fifth- leading scorers in the regular season—Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes and T.J. Oshie—finished with one goal each.
“It was either feast or famine,’’ Hitchcock said of the Blues’ scoring. “(The Wild) made us work for our chances. We had a lot in Game 5, but they made us work for them, and we didn’t score. The game is on the line; it’s us and the goalie three times in period two, and us and the goalie three times in period three, when it’s on the line, and we didn’t finish it. You can dissect that all you want. But the biggest thing for me is, it’s hard to win when you’re chasing games all the time. We were chasing too many games.’’
Hitchcock is working on a year-to-year contract that expires this summer, raising questions about his future with the Blues after four seasons in St. Louis. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk expects General Manager Doug Armstrong to make changes, saying “Army is not a guy who’s going to sit back and let this happen year after year.’’ But Shattenkirk defended the coach ,saying the loss was on the players.
“Hitch has been the reason why we’ve been (in the playoffs) for four years,’’ he said. “He’s hard on us, but he does it because he knows the right way and how to get to this position. You can never take that away from the way he coaches. He coaches fundamentals. It’s something we needed and we were able to get here because of him.
“Every time, it’s on us. It’s on the players first. It was a tough series to swallow. You’re almost in shock that this just happened. … We do what we need to do in the regular season, and once the postseason hits, we’re not able to get over that hump. It’s just a very frustrating thing to deal with year after year. We’ll have to see what happens now, what the next step is.’’
Goalie Jake Allen took the loss hard. Pulled at 11:19 of the second period after allowing his second goal of the game—a softie by Justin Fontaine that slipped through the five-hole Allen failed to close—he bit his lip in a postgame interview and put much of the responsibility on himself.
Allen, a rookie, had played every minute of the series before he was pulled Sunday and allowed 12 goals on 125 shots.
“Two terrible goals again. I just let us down,’’ Allen said. “I was more focused today than I ever was all year. Just two bad goals that can’t go in this time of year. Right now, it’s going to sit with me in a terrible way for a while. It was my job to keep the team in it; I let in a soft one, and it was a bad goal.
“This isn’t acceptable for any of us. This isn’t going to sit well with any of us for a while, and it’s going to be tough to watch the rest of the playoffs knowing we’re not in it. … It’s going to be a little while before I can think and start to move forward. This is not the way our season was supposed to end. Not even close.’’
Hitchcock deflected blame from Allen. “He’s a young guy,’’ the coach said. “He’s going to gain a lot of knowledge from this. I don’t think it’s time to pile on the goalie or anything like that. He’s a young guy, he learned a lot, he’s going to figure it out. He’s going to be a good goalie.’’
Monday is an off day for the Wild and it’ll be a work day for me pounding the keyboard, so there may not be a blog as I begin our advance coverage for the next round.
You’re stuck with me for a little (or a lot) longer.
Mike Yeo said as far as good days go, Devan Dubnyk had a great one.
One year after being in the minors with the Canadiens, the Wild goalie was named Vezina Trophy finalist earlier today. Hours later, he made 36 saves to rebound from the worst loss of his Wild career by leading Minnesota to a 4-1, Game 5 victory and put his team on the brink of advancing to the second round.
Game 6 will be Sunday at 2 p.m.
Dubnyk said he found earlier today from Yeo and he took some time to reflect on this incredible year.
“It was a year ago today I was on the C squad in Montreal,” Dubnyk said. “It’s been a long road and I got a good chance to talk to some important people in my life today that supported me through the whole run.”
How the heck did he put Wednesday’s 6-1 loss behind him, a game he was pulled after allowing six goals on 17 shots? How the heck did teammate after teammate say that Dubnyk’s positive attitude the past day was contagious and wore off on the group? How the heck did Yeo say the most impressive part of Dubnyk’s response was his eagerness to get back out there tonight and rebound?
“It’s easy,” Dubnyk said. “Everything we’ve been through, the belief that we have as a group in here of how good of a team we are, there was just no doubt from anybody in here that we were going to come in and have a better hockey game. I always go back to the conversation I had with [Coyotes captain] Shane Doan and him just reminding me that when you’re down or have a bad game, you need to remind yourself that that’s not the person you are, that’s not the player you are. You go back to when you have a 40-shot shutout, or 35 save, one-goal game, that’s who you are as a person and a player, you just have remember that.”
Dubnyk made 19 of his 36 saves in the third period, a period the Wild was in severe survival mode as the Blues pressured heartily.
In the first period, the Blues took the game’s first eight shots and took a 1-0 lead on Vladimir Tarasenko’s power-play goal, his sixth goal on nine shots at that point in the series.
In a series where there had been no tying goals or lead changes, it had to be harrowing.
“We talked about more than anything before the game, if they score first, we score first, our game can't change,” Yeo said. “I don't think we did that very well in Game 4, tonight that was a big factor for us, no one got down.”
Finally, at the 11:06 mark, Marco Scandella registered the Wild’s first shot of the game and it blew through Jake Allen’s glove for a tie game. By the end of one, the Blues had a 12-3 shot advantage but had to be nervous with a 1-1 game.
In the second, Dubnyk was awesome, robbing Alex Steen twice, including a desperation, rolling, throw-the-leg-up, pad save after Jared Spurgeon pressured Steen and made the patient skilled forward pause his shot.
Zach Parise called the save a game-changer.
“I don’t like being in that position very much,” Dubnyk said. “Some guys are good at doing that. I’m not Dominik Hasek, so I’m usually not feeling good in that spot. You just throw everything at him.”
“Obviously when you're on the bench your heart kind of sinks because you see the play develop and think it's in your net, think you're going to be trailing, all of a sudden you’re going the other way on a rush, it's a big lift for your group,” Yeo said.
Charlie Coyle, who scored the fourth goal tonight, raved about Dubnyk after the game and said the bench exploded with that save.
Not long after, Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu scored on back-to-back shots 1:26 apart. Niederreiter’s goal became his third career game-winning goal, a Wild playoff record.
The Wild dominated the last eight minutes of the second, but in the third, it was all St. Louis and Dubnyk stopped 19 of 19 shots.
“I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t approaching it like I had to go get a shutout after last game,” he said. “I just wanted to get back to finding pucks and being set and feeling good about what I was doing.”
On Sunday, Dubnyk said, “It’s huge. We need to treat that game like that’s our Game 7. You don’t get very many opportunities to finish off a series and we’ve worked to put ourselves in that situations. But we’ve got to understand that coming back here in a Game 7’s going to be a tough situation. It’s a one game win or go home and we have an opportunity to avoid that situation, so we’ll do the best we can and feed off our crowd.”
Yeo said of Dubnyk, “We needed him to give us a chance to settle into the game a little bit. It seemed like we were a little bit jittery in terms of execution, missing some sticks, some passes that we could have executed a little better on, missing some nets in the offensive zone. He gave us that opportunity. We've beaten a lot of good teams, beaten them in different buildings, not every game the same. Got to find a way to play your game and do it well for 60 minutes.”
Yeo said “Game 6 is obviously going to be a great challenge. We have not won anything yet. I think we’re very aware that home ice has not been a huge advantage in this series. That's going to be a great challenge.”
The Wild is 12-1-2 now in games after Dubnyk losses. Allen gave up more than two goals for the first time in 13 starts.
Chris Stewart, who was having a tough night and series before the midway point of the second, made a great play to get away from Zbynek Michalek to set up the Niederreiter goal. Yeo made a move early in the game to flip Niederreiter and a clearly-banged-up Jason Zucker and put Niederreiter on the Koivu-Stewart line. It paid off bigtime.
Here's some cut and paste Ken Hitchcock:
Where fell apart after Minny's first goal?
I don't know that it fell apart. I think they were opportunistic. First period until they scored their goal, that was the best we've played in the whole series. Played great. We kind of flattened out a little bit when they scored the goal and had all those chances in the second and missed those four chances there.
On Niederreiter goal:
We made a mistake on the second goal; we didn't get the puck deep. They got a faceoff and the d-man lost his stick. Jake didn't pick it up. That was kind of the turning point a little bit.
On Koivu goal:
The third goal's a fluke goal; what are you going to do?
But so many good things. We did so many good things today. We had a little bit of a lull. I didn't think we responded as hard as we could have maybe when they scored the first goal. That gave them a little bit of wind, but just did so many good things. You're disappointed for the guys. We'll rebound and get ready for the next game. If we bring a lot of the good things we did today into the next game, we've got a third game in a row to build on.
Opportunity to extend lead when 1-0:
We were playing so well. We just looked like it was a continuation of the last game, but I thought the air went out of the bag a little bit when they scored their first goal and we've got to probably look to respond a little bit different than that. We could have probably picked up Jake a little bit on that one. I thought we got a little bit flat.
WIld pack it in during third, not allow interior in period:
No, but it's our team. We kept coming. I don't know, what'd we have 19, 20 shots on goal? We get one early when we have all the chances, who knows. Game on, but it's natural to sit back a little bit. We were in their zone for most of the period.
Momentum changed entire series; reasons to believe going up there for Game 6:
I feel like we've played two games pretty well. We've got to play a third game to get it back here. We want to really bring it back for Game 7. We're going to have to play a really good game, but we've got two good games now we can build on. ... Look, we've got to score more. We've got to finish on these chances that we get. You can't three, four chances in the second period in a series where their goalie's playing really well; you can't get those chances and not finish them and expect to win and you're not going to win a lot of games scoring one goal. You're going to have to find ways to finish off those great opportunities because it was just us and the goalie three or four times there in the second period. Gotta find a way to finish those.
The Wild is now 4 for 11 on the power play this series. Tonight snapped five consecutive Game 5 losses.
That’s it for now. We know how the Wild usually play when it’s in a terrific position. We’ll see if it can avoid a letdown.
Talk to you after Saturday’s availability. Very early flight, so I have to get going.
I have gotten tons of questions about Sunday's Game 6 start time.
This is just my guess: If the Rangers eliminate the Penguins tonight, the Wild and Blues would likely be 2 p.m. on NBC. If the Penguins win tonight and Sens are eliminated, the Wild and Blues would likely be 7 p.m. BUT, if the Penguins and Senators win tonight, I would guess Wild and Blues would get the must-despised, Central time zone 8:30 (really 8:45) slot.
You want to know what coaches think of it? Ken Hitchcock ended his press conference and humorously walked out when I asked his opinion of them this morning.
"Don't even get me going on that one. It's way past my bedtime," Hitchcock said before dropping the mic.
Here's Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville when asked about the Game 4 of the Blackhawks-Predators series starting ay 8:45 p.m. and ending at 1:16 a.m. due to triple overtime: "I might not be able to answer that question. You should ask the fans who had to get up the next morning for work in Chicago the other night [after the 3OT game]. You look at the eastern, the other side, and the teams out west — basically the teams in our division are getting these 8:30 starts. It’s probably not easy on anybody, including you guys. It is what it is. I think players like 7, 7:30s and let’s go."
Remember, the past two postseasons, it's been the Wild and Blackhawks hit with the most 8:30 starts, which messes up with the routines of everyone, from fans to players to, ahem, the stinkin' media and our deadlines.
The only thing typical about tonight’s 6-1 beatdown is that when the Wild has a chance to make things easy on itself, we all know what happens.
“It’s not on purpose, trust me. We’d love to make it easy,” Zach Parise said. “That’s the way these series’ go. I don’t think anyone came into this series expecting it to be easy at all. I mean, that’s a good team. We know we have to be a lot better and we can be a lot better.”
But tonight wasn’t typical. If you look back at the Wild’s last three months, the Wild hasn’t experienced anything like tonight’s loss. The most amazing part of the Wild’s three-plus months without losing consecutive games in regulation, the most amazing part of the Wild only losing by more than a goal in the regular season twice since Jan. 19 was the Wild was in each and every game.
In a league where even the best teams get blown out once in awhile, the Wild was competitive nightly for three consecutive months.
Tonight, not at all, from the goaltender on out. Parise said the Wild got cocky, started to think they were unbeatable after such a quality Game 3 win, and that's precisely what Mike Yeo worked the past few days to caution against. It's why he said the Wild didn't dominate and had to move on from the win, etc., and it's probably why Ken Hitchcock spent the past few days pumping the Wild's tires incessantly.
But after this one, the Blues coach took a new strategy as his team regained home ice and turned this 2-2 series into a best-of-three with Game 5 in St. Louis on Friday night at 8:30.
“We knew how we were going to play yesterday,” Hitchcock said covertly.
Why did you think that? “It's between us and the players,” Hitchcock said.
“It looks like we've joined the tournament now and we're dialed in,” Hitchcock said. “We've got home-ice back, we're dialed into our game, we're going to be hard to play against when we're dialed in this. Not fun to play against.”
Many folks wondered how the Blues would respond tonight. After all, after a couple playoff exits in a row and frustration after Monday’s loss and media already speculating that heads could roll if the Blues get eliminated, maybe this team would go quietly into the offseason if the Wild put the hammer down tonight.
Instead, now it’s the Wild which will have to find a way to respond by winning at least one game in St. Louis after its worst defeat since the 7-2 beating in Pittsburgh on Jan. 13 – the day before Devan Dubnyk arrived.
The Wild was, as Parise said, “brutal” tonight. Sluggish, soft, sloppy. And Dubnyk didn’t help for a change. As tough as two of the first-period goals, the backbreaker that sucked the life out of the arena was Paul Stastny’s goal to make it 4-1 less than two minutes after Jared Spurgeon got the crowd buzzing with a power-play goal 1:41 into the second period.
Amazingly, coach Mike Yeo didn’t pull Dubnyk there. Dubnyk was finally pulled after giving up his sixth goal on 17 shots with 3:10 left in the second. Yeo said in hindsight, it was the fifth goal (not third or fourth) that he wishes he pulled Dubnyk on. But he was trying to get him out of the period.
Here’s Yeo from his postgame, which I didn’t make it to due to deadline:
Where’d it go wrong? “How much time do you have? Obviously, our start was not good enough. And you combine that with the fact they had a great start, so they were on top of their game, and we were not even close to on top of ours. Once they got up a couple, we got even worse.”
Any hint that was coming? “No. But quite often, that's the case. That's the challenge. You win a game, and then you sit around for two days. You have to try to collect yourself and get ready for that next one. It's not always an easy thing to do, but likewise, when you lose a game, that's our challenge right now -- how we bounce back.”
Yeo said the Blues “were much better in terms of getting up ice. They were definitely stretching us out tonight, created a couple odd-man rushes because of that, but they were outstanding with the puck in the offensive zone and made it very difficult for us there.”
Yeo said he thinks Dubnyk will “react great. I'm very, very confident in that, knowing his personality, just knowing what he's been through No. 1 to get this opportunity and how he got our team here. So yeah, no concerns about that.”
Yeo attributed his struggles “to a team game that was not even close to good enough for us.”
Yeo said the fourth goal is not one you want to give up when you have a little bit of momentum, but “you can't give a team a 3-0 lead. And it didn't have the feel of the type of game that we were going to come back. We weren't on it from the start, and it got worse. Normally, we're a team that I think we start well but we stay with our game very strongly as far as whether we're ahead, whether we're behind, and tonight we broke that, that's for sure.”
Yeo said, “As difficult as it was and as frustrating and disappointing as that game is, we're going up against the team that won the division. That's a good team. It's obviously frustrating not to be up 3-1; we had that opportunity tonight. But it's a pretty darn good team we're playing there, and now it's best-of-3. We've got a pretty good team ourselves, and I think we should get excited for these next couple games.”
Yeo said, “It’s hard to look at this game and look at what's tactical, because there were so many parts of the game that we weren't even close to being on top of our game and not even within our game. But certainly we'll look at that. In terms of what we're going to show the guys, we're not going to punish anybody with this. We know that we need to be better. They were great tonight; there's no getting around that. They're a great team, and they played an unbelievable game tonight, so we've got to find a way to get better at ours.”
Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and now has a league-leading five goals and is the first Blue since Doug Weight in 2003 to have multiple-goal games in the same series. Kevin Shattenkirk had three assists and now has a league-leading seven assists. David Backes and Patrik Berglund each had a goal and assist, Jay Bouwmeester was plus-4, Jake Allen made 17 saves and the Blues snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
The Blues’ fourth line, which had Steve Ott at his natural center position, got things started with a Ryan Reaves goal. Soon after, Parise fell in the neutral zone (one of several Wild players who slipped on banana peels tonight), Thomas Vanek, who has no goals in the series, and Charlie Coyle were late getting in the zone because of the confusion with Parise blowing a tire and Tarasenko redirected a Shattenkirk shot. Then, Dubnyk gave up a brutal one to Backes by not corralling Shattenkirk’s shot.
3-0 by the 10:06 mark
“We went from feeling awesome about ourselves, feeling like we can’t be beat after last game and then we get a little dose of reality tonight, a little slap in the face,” Parise said. “We have to be a lot better. We know that.”
Overconfident? Parise admitted they may have come in “a little cocky. We felt really good and rightfully so. We felt really good about how we played last game. I don’t know if we thought it was going to be an easy game or that they were going to pack it in. But that wasn’t the case at all. We expected them to have a good start and have a good push. I don’t think we reacted well when they got one. Not very good by us
It was sluggish at times. Just not great decisions with the puck through the neutral zone and they countered pretty quickly.”
On the Stastny fourth goal, Parise saidm, “That hurt. You get that power-play goal to start the second and give the crowd something to cheer about and then they come right back. It’s always so important after a goal for or against to follow it up. We tried to get ourselves back in the game there, but they got the fourth one. That hurt.”
Dubnyk said, “We know we’ve got better than that. I’ve got better than that. We all got better than that. We’ll get back at it in St. Louis.”
On if this is as bad as it gets for him, “I haven’t had to experience that here yet. Unfortunately done that before in my career (laughs). The thing about the playoffs, doesn’t matter if we lost that game 1-0, we’d be in the exact same position we are. We all know we can be better, I can be better and we will be.
“I have no question or worry we’ll be ready to go for next game.
“None of us expected this to be a sweep in our favor or a short series by any means. We knew it would be a battle and that’s what it’s turning out to be.”
The Blues said this is the game they need to carry into their building
“This is our game. It's not our best game. We can play a lot better than we played today,” Hitchcock said. “We've still got things we've got to work on, but this is our game. We're going to play this game and if it's good enough, we're going to put it out there, and if we win with it, great. If we don't win with it, so be it. But this is our game. We're going to play our game now. We're not going to chase it around the rink like we did the first three games. We're playing our game. We changed the way we used to be. We're playing it. This is the way it's going to be for the next little while. If they can match it, great on them.”
Think Hitch is confident?
Blues responded from a clinic by the Wild in Game 3. We’ll see if the Wild can do the same in hostile territory Friday.
The Wild has availability at the airport Thursday afternoon and then I will have to sprint to my flight, and then somehow write. So Rachel Blount may do the blogging Thursday.
The Wild wasn’t kidding when it prepped its players before the series to know what to expect from Steve Ott and to just skate away laughing at him.
There was a lot of laughing at the Blues agitator again tonight.
One game after Jason Zucker and Jordan Schroeder laughed in his face, two games after Chris Stewart laughed in his face, Matt Dumba did the same tonight when Ott almost landed in the Wild bench after missing a check on Jonas Brodin and 19,165 fans laughed in his face when Ott had a chance to actually do something useful by scoring on a third-period breakaway and instead lost the puck.
So, of course, on his last shift, Ott assaults Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon to earn a second 10-minute misconduct in three games. He literally went out scratching and clawing, according to goalie Devan Dubnyk.
“We’ve got a lot of hockey to play, so I don’t want to comment yet,” Dubnyk said of Ott before humorously going on to comment. “That’s two games now – both wins – that he’s ended up with a 10-minute misconducts at the end of the game, so we know why he’s out there and that’s what he’s looking to do. Our guys are fully capable of protecting ourselves, and we’ll stick together and get out of the way of him. That’s what he’s out there to do. Lot of hockey to play, so we won’t comment on any of that.”
I asked why he raced out of the crease to referee Jean Hebert during the Ott-Spurgeon incident: “He’s scratching at Spurgy’s face,” Dubnyk said. “He’s on the ice with his glove in his face and I could see his fingers moving, he’s pulling at his mouth and his nose and eyes. I don’t want our guy to end up hurt with his eyes or whatever. And the ref was standing there, so I just told him to grab, to get his hand. I could see his hand scratching at his face, so I just don’t want Spurgy to get hurt and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what he was trying to do.”
So, as the Blues were showing their frustration during and late in a 3-0 Game 3 loss that put them behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Wild skated out with zero penalties for the first time ever in a home playoff game.
That had to also be frustrating for the Blues because not only did they lose their discipline, they were so on their heels tonight that they couldn’t draw a penalty. It felt like the Wild had the puck the entire night skating by flat-footed Blues players.
Vladimir Tarasenko, coming off a Game 2 hat trick, was minus-3 with no shots on goal as coach Mike Yeo’s intent tonight was to get Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville out against Alex Steen-Jori Lehtera-Tarasenko as much as he could.
As I tweeted in the first period, the Granlund line was so-so close to breaking through after a couple tough games in St. Louis. The line finally did in the second when Pominville and Parise scored 2:05 apart. Nino Niederreiter added an empty-netter and Dubnyk only had to make 17 saves for the third playoff shutout in Wild history.
Now, the Wild plays Game 4 on Wednesday ahead 2-1 in a series for the first time ever at home.
“We were a lot better with the puck tonight in the offensive zone, holding onto it a little longer, making some plays,” Parise said. “We were better off the rush, attacking the middle of the ice. Teams look fast when you can do that. I thought we were tough to play against.”
On the Pominville goal after Granlund flew by Tarasenko and lost the puck on a nice Carl Gunnarsson poke-check, Parise said, “It was a little bit of a broken play. It was smart of him not to do a fly by past the post and stay there. I think everyone got a little puck focused and I saw him by himself.”
On his goal, Parise said, “I tried to pull it through Bouwmeester’s feet about four times with no success. Finally, I just tried to shoot it and caught up him upstairs.
On the 17-shot defensive performance, Parise said, “It feels good. I thought our forwards did a good job coming back and pushing them into our D and our D got up and had some good gaps. Once we do that we can get back on the counterattack. That was a big part of the reason we had the puck a lot.”
On his line: “It feels good. I wasn’t too excited about the way our first two games went in St. Louis. I thought we could do a lot better. Fortunately tonight we scored. That’s the big difference. We had more puck time, more zone time, better rushes -- just better plays. And I know the three of us wanted to have a better performance than we had in St. Louis.”
On the defensive performance, Dubnyk said, “I’ve seen that a few times actually this last half of the year. I’ve seen some pretty incredible performances here at home by us, and that ranks right up there with it. There just weren’t any mistakes. It was just line after line supporting each other, making good plays and being there for each other.”
On the home crowd: “Certainly didn’t disappoint. It was crazy toward the end of the second period there. You can’t hear anything, you can’t hear whistles, you can’t hear the pucks hitting sticks. You’re moving around deaf. We fed off of it.”
On the Wild’s speed: “That’s when we’re at our best. That’s the strength of our team. We play like that, I don’t think there’s one team that can avoid turning the puck over because we’re there. Every time a pass is made, our guy’s there. We’re reading off each other, we’re all moving our feet. We’re right there, so it forces turnovers and we try to capitalize after that. that was impressive. Every single line, every pairing was on top of the puck.”
Charlie Coyle, who played another strong game and took some punches in the second by David Backes, said, “You can tell they got frustrated with stuff after the whistle and tried to get into that, and us just walking away. Continue to play hard, play with speed and be physical, and yeah, you can tell it frustrated them.”
“We’re here to play hockey. We’re not here to fight and do all that. That stuff after the whistle doesn’t win you games. So, we’re just focused on playing our game and playing it smart. They want that stuff after the whistle and big hits and all that. We just stay grounded, stay level-headed, keep our emotions in check and just, like I said, play hockey.”
On Ott, Coyle said, “Just let him be a non-factor out there, that’s all. That’s his game and that’s what he’s got to do. We don’t focus on that. We don’t pay attention to it. He doesn’t do much out there.”
Mike Yeo said, “We knew we were going to have to be on top of things tonight and we were ready to start the right way. We talked about being ready for whatever follows. I thought our guys did a good job – we had a pretty decent start – of just staying with it, not getting frustrated. Obviously that first goal is huge.”
On the after whistle extracurricular stuff by the Blues, Yeo said, “We prepped for this, we expect it and I think our guys have done a good job of handling it so far, but we have a long way to go here.”
On the team effort, “We need everybody. That’s a very good hockey team, a very talented hockey team, four lines deep, and six d deep. If we have one particular line going that’s not going to be enough. Tonight was a good team game and we were playing the right way and somebody different is going to have a chance to have their name in the headlines the next day a little bit more than some others.”
On the Wild’s speed, “Well, we were excited to get in front of our crowd, that’s for sure. We were expecting our crowd to be a lot like they were, and our guys feed off that. We talked about that last year, and we knew that we were going to have some pretty good energy, as far as how we wanted to play in front of them, giving them reasons to be loud. But that’s got to be our game. That’s got to be the way that we’re playing. We’re built around speed. Our game’s built around speed. It’s not just a personnel thing. So we have to be playing fast.”
On taking no penalties, Yeo said, “We needed that. We knew that. As far as keeping our sticks on the ice, as far as moving our feet, we played the game the way that we needed to as far as staying out of the box, but I also think a big factor was how we played with the puck. That was very important, just as far as spending a little bit more time with the puck, spending a little bit more time in the offensive zone. That was crucial. We have to have that mindset. They’ve got a very good power play, and you don’t want to give those skill guys a chance.
On the quality Bergenheim-Brodziak-Fontaine line, Yeo said, “I thought they did a good job again. It’s a good team win. If you want to keep asking me about players, I’ll keep telling you I think everybody did a good job. I’m not trying to be a jerk about that, but again I thought the guys within their role were strong. I thought we were four lines deep. I thought all the ‘D’ did a good job tonight. But for sure, we need that line to bring us good energy and they had a couple really good shifts that got the crowd going and that’s what we’re looking for from those guys.
“As I said this morning, our guys are all in for each other right now. We know that we’re playing a good hockey team, but we are a very motivated group and we have pretty decent confidence that we’ve been working for a long time here. So again, we feel good about this game and now we’ll just get ready for the next one.”
Here’s some Pominville:
“We fed off the energy the crowd gave us. We knew it was going to be good, and it was even better than what I expected. I thought every line was going. We controlled play for the most part and we made some good plays. And our D did a really good job tonight with their gap and made it tough on them. That led to us having the puck more.
“We were able to play with the puck more, we were able to make more plays and more zone time. That gives us momentum and obviously gets the crowd into it.
We played a pretty solid game overall. We’re obviously happy with it, and we’ll enjoy it tonight and put it behind us and get back to work.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to get through or not, but he made a good play. He froze the goalie, and I was able to kind of settle it down and put it in. So it was nice to get that one for sure.”
On his line, “I think for our line to be successful, we’ve got to be moving. We’re not the three biggest guys physically, but we can move well, and we can make plays when we need to, and our forecheck game has been pretty good. I thought tonight we were moving and we were making plays. It makes it tough to defend when you’re always moving and making plays when you have the puck. So it was nice to get rewarded the way we did for sure. “
Here’s some Blues stuff from our media quote loop:
Tonight we helped them beat us. We didn’t stick to our game plan, we weren’t going to the net like we did in Game 2. We weren’t getting puck s through and we were trying to get a little bit too cute from the top of the circles out. We’ve got to get pucks deep and get them to the net. We had a lot of problems doing that tonight.
We weren’t putting pucks deep. With this team you have to get the puck in behind the D-men. They like to have a tight gap and feed their transition, and we were feeding right into it. We were trying to make plays in front of them instead of putting pucks behind them and that just fed to their offense and let them get the momentum in the first period.
(Allen) We let him down, some back door plays. He made some big stops for us but when you put a big goose egg up on the board, it’s hard to win.
(Game 4) Come to play, come to execute what the game plan is. If we put in a solid effort then we have a chance to win. If we’re kind of all over the place like we were tonight that team’s going to beat us every night.
It was reminiscent of Game 1 I think, where they skated a lot and wanted to assert their game and we let them by sitting on our heels and playing passive. We let them come at us, come at us, come at us and the Granlund line scored two goals for them. They’re dynamite on the rush, they’ve shown that all series and they made us pay tonight.
We’ve got to get to our game. I thought it was a lot better in the third again, but you can’t play 15-20 minutes against this team and expect to win games. We need a full 60-minute effort like we had in Game 2. We have another chance on Wednesday to play a 60-minute game with 20 guys on the ice and get a job done.
We have to learn our lesson, put this behind us and remember it’s a battle out there, it’s a war and it’s going to take a great effort every night against this team.
Cute and on our heels. I think if we’re on our toes and more assertive and more aggressive, trying to put our game out there instead of trying to see what they’re going to bring with their crowd and energy, then trying to react to that. Then it’s too late and they’ve already carried the play for 10-15 minutes at that point, gotten a couple power plays.
We don’t draw a single penalty tonight and for good reason, because we’re not on our toes, we’re not carrying the play in their zone and making them take penalties. All those things add up to 3-0 against.
Their team speed, when you let them have time and space to make plays and zip the puck around, it’s dangerous and they’ve shown that the whole second half of the year.
They got to show their speed and skill and abilities tonight and we were playing catch-up all night really after the first period with only four shots.
I just think play for 60 minutes. We did that in the second game and we came out on top. We didn’t the first game, we didn’t tonight. Their team is going to be there from start to finish. They battle, every single line, so we need to realize that now and we can’t let the ball slip any more.
That’s the way they play. They’re one of the best teams in the league since Christmas. They had a slow start to the year but since then they’ve probably been one of the top one or two teams in the league.
We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve dug ourselves a hole, but now it’s time to get out.
(Parise goal) That went off our D-man’s stick. He shot it on the ice and it hit our D-man’s stick so fast it went top corner. He didn’t mean to shoot there.
My job is to keep the puck out of the night and give the guys a chance. I felt good out there again tonight and I’ll keep battling the next game.
That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you after Tuesday’s practices.
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