ST. LOUIS – To Mike Yeo, it didn’t really matter how many high-end players were out of the St. Louis lineup. Even a Blues team decimated by injury, the Wild coach knew, would be difficult to handle Saturday.
Yeo predicted the Blues would “try to break” the Wild with their usual physical play. While his team bowed, falling 3-2 in overtime, he was pleased to see how resilient it was. In the second of back-to-back games against Central Division heavyweights, and on the road at hostile Scottrade Center, the Wild dug out of a 2-0 hole to gain a hard-fought point.
The Minnesota expatriate David Backes got the bookends for the Blues, opening and closing the scoring with his first goals of the season. The captain from Blaine flung a 52-foot wrist shot past goalie Devan Dubnyk at 2 minutes, 47 seconds of the first period, then won it with a wrister from the slot with 34 seconds remaining in the three-on-three overtime.
Jason Zucker and Erik Haula scored for the Wild, both on gritty plays in the final 4:46 of the first period. As the Blues dished out the hits, Yeo praised his team for showing “a different kind of toughness” in a game that exemplified the identity he wants to see.
“All things considered, I think we have to be pretty pleased with the way we played the game,” said Yeo, whose team has earned points in five of its past six games. “There are two things I love about this group. One is we’re never out of a game, and the second is that we’re tough in our own way.
“St. Louis had a game plan, and they were coming at us. I thought we got a little too involved in it, to be honest — we have to do a better job between whistles — but I liked how we still jump on loose pucks, still go to the front of the net, still execute. We just keep playing.’’
The Blues used their brand of toughness to win a third consecutive game despite being severely undermanned. Already missing Paul Stastny (foot injury), Jaden Schwartz (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder), the Blues also played Saturday without leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko and veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Tarasenko sat out after suffering a knee-to-knee hit Thursday against Anaheim, and Shattenkirk still is recovering from a lower-body injury.
Yeo chose to start goalie Devan Dubnyk in the second game of a back-to-back set for the second time this season. He said he wanted to give the Wild “the best chance to win,” and Dubnyk settled well after surrendering two goals on the Blues’ first four shots. He was beaten by Backes, whose shot nicked Marco Scandella’s stick, and by Alex Steen from the left circle after Steen stole a pass near the Wild’s blue line.
As the period wore on, though, the Blues grew sloppy — and the persistent Wild took advantage. After Zucker was knocked down by Carl Gunnarsson, he popped back up, hustled back into the play as the Blues turned the puck over, then skated to the left circle and sniped a shot past goalie Jake Allen. Haula tied it when he forced a turnover in the Blues’ zone, then went to the net and fired Thomas Vanek’s pass past Allen with 42.3 seconds remaining in the period.
The Wild failed to score on five power plays—including a two-man advantage that lasted 62 seconds—and missed on a couple of golden chances in overtime, but Yeo and his players weren’t dwelling on the what-ifs.
“It’s easy to pack it in after a tough start in a back-to-back,” said Dubnyk, who stopped 23 shots. “That’s not what we do here. To come back and have an even game at the end of the first period on the road is not a surprise out of this group.”