ST. LOUIS – Bruce Boudreau tried his darndest Wednesday to safeguard Martin Hanzal from any blame for the Wild being on the edge of elimination heading into Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues.
“I think he’s been good,” the Wild coach said before the game and before Hanzal’s second-period goal gave the Wild a 2-0 lead. “He’s done his job. Third-line center. He’s been really solid. Penalty-killing, faceoffs. He’s done exactly what we’ve wanted him to do.”
Hanzal scored four goals and had nine assists in 20 regular-season games with the Wild and won 58 percent of his faceoffs. But because of the Wild’s 4-10-2 March and playoff lack of success, some still feel the arrival of Hanzal and Ryan White messed up the Wild’s chemistry.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher gambled Feb. 26 by acquiring Hanzal, White and a 2017 fourth-round pick from Arizona for a 2017 first-round pick, 2018 second-round pick, conditional 2019 fourth-round pick and minor leaguer Grayson Downing.
Asked if he wants Hanzal back, Boudreau said: “That’s up to him. But he could play on my team any time.”
It’ll be difficult for the Wild to afford Hanzal. If the $73 million salary cap remains flat next season, the Wild would have only about $11 million in space with Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter among the restricted free agents needing to be re-signed.
In March, Fletcher said he saw no reason why the Wild wouldn’t be able to afford Granlund, the Wild’s leading scorer, and Niederreiter, who has scored 20-plus goals three consecutive seasons.
“We’re going to see what the price point is for everybody. I’m not concerned about it,” Fletcher said at the time. “I’m pretty sure the players we want to keep, we’ll keep. Every year there’s a challenge when you spend to the cap. We’re not the only team. There’s other teams whose cap battles have been well-chronicled over the years, and last summer we were no different.
“In order to have money to add a center [Eric Staal], we bought out Thomas Vanek. Vanek’s a good hockey player. That’s not something you would do if you had cap space. We’ve had to make decisions the last few other summers and that will continue to be part of the landscape.
“I don’t think this year is any different. The end of the year, how we play and how certain individuals play will have a lot of impact on any decisions we make.”
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo continues to be one of the most under-the-radar high-quality defensemen in the NHL.
“Even for me coaching against him, it’s one of those players that when you start to actually coach him and you start to see all the little parts to his game and how good he is, it takes that appreciation up to another level,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s got a very quiet confidence about himself. You can see the poise in his game, the confidence in his game. It shows up in how he defends. His one-on-one battles down low, how he separates guys from pucks, how he skates out of that pressure.
“It shows up when we need a big offensive play. He’s done a heck of a job this year. He’s had to deal with an awful lot as a first-year captain, and the way he’s navigated through all that, it’s going to be real encouraging for the future. He’s showing that he’s a guy that when you count on him, he delivers.”
• Forward Erik Haula missed Game 4 because of an injury originally sustained in Game 2. Rookie Joel Eriksson Ek was reinserted into the lineup as fourth-line center.
• Goalie Darcy Kuemper, likely moving on this offseason as a free agent, was ill. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk in Kuemper’s place.
• Right winger Jordan Schroeder was scratched for a fourth straight playoff game. Defenseman Christian Folin missed his second game in a row.