If Sunday’s game was a measuring stick, the Wild at least measured up to the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues might be the deepest team in the NHL with prolific forwards, balance, size, an exceptional defense corps, a future Hall of Fame coach and now the star goaltender to boot.
As Kyle Brodziak put it, the Blues are “definitely one of the most intimidating teams in the league.”
Sunday night, the Wild felt it stood up to and even outplayed the big, bad Blues, who still were able to leapfrog Anaheim for the top spot in the NHL with a 3-2 shootout victory at Xcel Energy Center.
But the Wild opened a four-game homestand by rallying from a 2-0 deficit on second-period goals by Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson and felt it deserved better against a team that often physically outmatches Minnesota and almost always wins.
“We played them good, we played them tough,” Zach Parise said after the Blues’ eighth consecutive victory over the Wild. “It’s a team that in all reality we could be squaring off against in the playoffs. I know there’s a long time ’til that, but I thought we matched up well against them. We liked the way we played.”
Ilya Bryzgalov, in his Wild debut, made 21 saves through overtime but couldn’t stop shootout star T.J. Oshie, nor Alex Steen. Parise and Mikko Koivu couldn’t beat Brian Elliott, who gave recently acquired Ryan Miller a game off, as the Blues improved to 18-0-1 against the Central Division and ended the Wild’s six-game home winning streak.
The Wild didn’t cower in an intense battle, the tone set early when Brodziak got into his sixth career fight, with Blues agitator Steve Ott. The point in the standings gave the seventh-place Wild a four-point lead on Dallas and seven-point lead on ninth-place Phoenix.
“I think [the Blues] thought they were going to take it to us physically, and our guys responded,” said coach Mike Yeo, who watched his players take hits to make plays and force Blues defensemen into turnovers by finishing checks. “I’ve seen this from our group a lot. When people try to play like that against us, usually we’re able to find another gear.”
The Wild feels it’s better poised to play the Blues than in past years. It added size at the trade deadline, acquiring blue-paint specialist Moulson and the hard-nosed Cody McCormick. And some of its young forwards have size, such as Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, who both impressed Yeo on Sunday.
“We’ve got some big boys, too,” Yeo said.
“Not a single guy shied away,” Brodziak said.
Added defenseman Jared Spurgeon: “With the team we have now, you could see the depth that we have. Line after line, we can go out there and play with those teams now. A couple years ago, it was a bit different. It was an exciting hockey game, and it gives you hope as well.”
Darcy Kuemper, who started a franchise-rookie-record 16 games in a row, got his first night off since Jan. 11, but Bryzgalov, acquired Tuesday from the Oilers, didn’t have the most idyllic start to his Wild career.
Oshie and Carlo Colaiacovo scored on two of St. Louis’ first three shots. But it wasn’t as if the Wild was being dominated. In fact, the Blues registered one shot during a 23-minute span between the first and second periods.
Early in the second, Parise made a slick pass to Pominville to set up his 23rd goal and first since Jan. 30. Less than four minutes later, Koivu fed Moulson at the back door for the tying goal, Moulson’s first with the Wild.
Elliott made the save of the game in the third when he robbed Mikael Granlund with his paddle.
“We created, played great hockey,” Bryzgalov said. “Good scoring chances, but some situations we were not fortunate. I think we played better than they played tonight.”