Predictably, Friday night’s second game of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals between the rival Wild and St. Louis Blues had dialed-up intensity, far fewer shots and a lot more even play than Wednesday’s series opener.
After the Wild reeled off a franchise-record 52 shots in Game 1’s overtime loss, Friday’s rematch didn’t feature 52 shots combined and was further evidence how big of a lost opportunity Game 1 was.
In a stunning turn of events, after fighting all season for home-ice advantage in the first round for the second time in franchise history, the Wild dropped a second consecutive home game, 2-1. It now must win four of the next five games to advance … with the next two games coming in St. Louis.
“Obviously, it’s a bad feeling right now, but you have to dig deep and find out what we’re made of here,” defenseman Ryan Suter said.
A tight-checking, hard-hitting, tension-filled contest looked to be heading to overtime for the second time when the Blues drew the kind of 4-on-4 that used to drive Mike Yeo batty during Wild postseasons when he was Minnesota’s coach.
Scottie Upshall, running around all night and the fourth-liner whose elbowing penalty led to Wild all-time leading playoff scorer Zach Parise’s tying goal on a 5-on-3 in the second period, checked Charlie Coyle in front of the Blues’ bench. Upshall followed by driving Coyle face-first into the ice and sliding him through a linesman.
Coyle got up, got in Upshall’s face, a scrum ensued, and the refs called coincidental roughing minors with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left.
“That’s unacceptable in a 1-1 hockey game to make that call. It just doesn’t make sense,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “You can watch it a hundred times, there’s zero reason. It’s either a penalty on them or it’s no penalty.”
Despite the Wild’s speed, 4-on-4 has never been its forte, especially this season, when it was outscored 4-1. Make it five because with 24 seconds left in the 4-on-4, Jaden Schwartz whistled a shot over Dubnyk’s glove for the winner with 2:27 left.
Alex Pietrangelo called Schwartz’s rocket a “perfect shot” after David Perron masterfully drove the middle to back off Jonas Brodin.
“I think I shot it through [Brodin’s] legs,” Schwartz said. “Dubnyk couldn’t see it.”
It was a disappointing loss for the second-best team in the West with slowly fading Stanley Cup aspirations. Teams that take a 2-0 series lead go on to win 87.3 percent of the time. Game 3 is in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ll tell you right now, this series is long from over,” veteran Chris Stewart insisted. “There’s no quit in this dressing room. There’s a lot of heart in this dressing room.”
The Blues ramped up the intensity and nastiness from Game 1, got effective play from its physical Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves fourth line, had big defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Colton Parayko get in the face of the Wild’s more diminutive forwards, such as Mikael Granlund, and again packed five defenders between the hash marks to make life difficult on the Wild.
“We knew we had to be more aggressive, more assertive in our game,” Yeo said.
The Wild was limited to 28 fewer shots than Wednesday. The Blues have held the Wild to no 5-on-5 goals in the series after the Wild led all NHL teams with 187 even-strength goals in the regular season.
“We’ve got to find ways, get some traffic, go to the net, get inside their guys and put in the rebound goal,” Coyle said.
Added Dubnyk: “We just can’t seem to get a break at the other end, but we know that we are more than capable of creating goals.”
The Wild went 22-13-6 on the road this season, winning in some tough buildings. None of those was St. Louis’ Scottrade Center.
“Let’s face it: Both games could’ve gone either way,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So I don’t see why we can’t go in there and do the same thing to them that they did to us. This is what happened last year, when [coaching Anaheim] we went into Nashville and won the next three games. So it’s not impossible.”