Around the 30-minute mark, Monday night’s Game 3 began to have the same uneasy feel of last year’s Game 3 in the Wild’s first-round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche.
No matter how many pucks the Wild threw on net, no matter how badly the Wild outskated the Avs, Semyon Varlamov turned everything aside until Mikael Granlund dived in the slot to break a scoreless tie in overtime.
Monday night, the Wild similarly peppered Jake Allen and sped past the St. Louis Blues as if their skates didn’t have blades attached. Yet, with the Xcel Energy Center crowd shrieking with nervous energy, the game was frustratingly scoreless.
That was until the Zach Parise-Granlund-Jason Pominville line, so close to breaking through in the first period, finally did with second-period goals by Pominville and Parise 125 seconds apart to make the arena shake before an eventual 3-0 victory and 2-1 series lead.
“It was crazy toward the end of the second period there,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said after recording the third playoff shutout in Wild history. “You can’t hear anything, you can’t hear whistles, you can’t hear the pucks hitting sticks. You’re moving around deaf.”
Hours after coach Mike Yeo said the Wild needed to give the crowd of 19,165 a reason to be loud, the Wild stuck to its game plan like it often does on the road. It held the Blues to seven shots through 36 minutes and 17 for the game, yet it couldn’t penetrate the St. Louis net for what felt like an eternity. Still, the Wild didn’t grow impatient as it had a lot at home this season.
The Wild’s speed was impressive. It blew by the Blues all game long, especially in the second period when the St. Louis looked overwhelmed.
“We play like that, I don’t think there’s one team that can avoid turning the puck over,” Dubnyk said. “Every time a pass is made, our guy’s there. … Every single line, every pairing was on top of the puck. … I’ve seen some pretty incredible performances here at home by us, and that ranks right up there with it.”
The Blues, coming off consecutive first-round exits, grew frustrated by game’s end. After the Wild went up 2-0, David Backes threw punches at Charlie Coyle and agitator Steve Ott began running around aimlessly.
On his last shift, Ott jumped Marco Scandella, then Jared Spurgeon, who had come to his partner’s defense.
Yet, as it did all game, the Wild skated away laughing and didn’t take a single penalty.
“We’re here to play hockey,” Coyle said. “We’re not here to fight and do all that. That stuff after the whistle doesn’t win you games.”
After a scoreless first period, the Wild slowly took over the game. Jake Allen stopped Minnesota’s first 18 shots until Pominville scored his second of the series and Parise his first.
“I wasn’t too excited about the way our first two games went in St. Louis,” Parise said. “I thought we could do a lot better.”
After not being able to cash in on a few flurries, the Wild caught the Blues on a long shift. Granlund recognized this, caught Vladimir Tarasenko — coming off a Game 2 hat trick but minus-3 with no shots Monday — flat-footed in the neutral zone and flew by him to create a 2-on-1 with Pominville.
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson made a sliding poke-check to nudge the puck off Granlund’s stick, but it went right to Parise. He spotted Pominville all alone in the crease and Pominville scored a “look-what-I-found’’ goal.
One shift later for the trio, the always relentless Parise battled for a loose puck in the slot with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Alex Steen. Parise won and sniped a shot over a stunned Allen’s glove for a 2-0 lead.
“I tried to pull it through Bouwmeester’s feet about four times with no success,” Parise said. “Finally, I just tried to shoot it and caught up him upstairs.”
The Blues know they better figure out a way to slow the Wild.
“We don’t draw a single penalty tonight and for good reason,” Backes said. “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 … they’re dynamite on the rush, they’ve shown that all series and they made us pay.”