There’s a process to winning hockey games, and Mike Yeo’s credo through the first four games of these playoffs has been to remind his Wild that you can’t win a hockey game in the first five or 10 minutes.
True, but Wednesday night the Wild showed you can certainly lose one.
The Wild came out flat, didn’t contest shots, was soft along the walls, was terrible in the neutral zone and got unusually poor goaltending as the St. Louis Blues rebounded from a Game 3 loss by trouncing the Wild 6-1 in Minnesota’s barn.
One game after becoming the first NHL team to shut out an opponent this postseason, the Wild allowed the most goals it ever has in 52 all-time playoff games as the Blues evened the best-of-seven series at two wins apiece with Game 5 in St. Louis on Friday night.
“We were just brutal,” Zach Parise said. “We went from feeling awesome about ourselves, feeling like we can’t be beat after last game, and then you get a little dose of reality, a little slap in the face.”
Devan Dubnyk, so good for the Wild since arriving Jan. 14 from Arizona, gave up a season-high six goals on 17 shots before coach Mike Yeo finally gave him the mercy hook with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left in the second period.
By the time Darcy Kuemper arrived for mop-up duty, fans were snarly. They mock-cheered when he made his first save, applauded the public address of the final minute of the second period and sent the Wild to the locker room for the second intermission with a chorus of boos.
“We weren’t on it from the start, and it got worse as it went on,” Yeo said.
The Blues have come off a pair of first-round exits in a row. Many wondered how they’d respond after being so outplayed in Game 3. They answered impressively.
“We might have came in a little cocky,” Parise said. “We felt really good [after Game 3] and rightfully so. … I don’t know if we thought it was going to be an easy game or we thought they were going to pack it in, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals, David Backes and Patrik Berglund had a goal and assist each, Kevin Shattenkirk assisted on three goals, and Jake Allen made 17 saves as the Blues ended a nine-game playoff road losing streak dating to 2012.
Coach Ken Hitchcock scrambled his top three lines and three defense pairs, but it was fourth-liner Ryan Reaves who got things started with a blast from the point that provided the early indication that Dubnyk wasn’t sharp.
Eighty-five seconds later, Tarasenko redirected Shattenkirk’s shot for a 2-0 lead. At the 10:06 mark, Backes scored his first of the series when Dubnyk simply couldn’t smother another Shattenkirk point shot.
“We know we’ve got better than that,” Dubnyk said. “I’ve got better than that.”
It would have been understandable if Yeo pulled Dubnyk there, but he didn’t even look at Kuemper.
The Wild awoke at the start of the second period with a Jared Spurgeon power-play goal. Xcel Energy Center’s crowd of 19,390 came alive, but that was doused less than two minutes later when Dubnyk surrendered an unscreened softie to Paul Stastny from the left faceoff dot for a 4-1 Blues lead.
“That hurt,” Parise said.
Again, Yeo didn’t pull Dubnyk. Tarasenko scored his league-leading fifth playoff goal on a magnificent-looking breakaway to make it 5-1. Again, Yeo didn’t pull Dubnyk, trying to get him out of the period with 4:13 left. But 63 seconds later, Berglund scored.
Yeo attributed Dubnyk’s struggles “to a team game that was not even close to good enough.”
The Wild could have gone up 3-1, a series stranglehold that leads to a series victory 90.2 percent of the time in the NHL. The Wild rarely makes things easy on itself, though.
“It’s not on purpose, trust me. We’d love to make it easy,” 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.”