The Wild outshot, outhit and outblocked-shot (to make up a word) the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
The Blues pushed hard late and Dmitrij Jaskin fluttered a shot over the net with Chris Stewart pressuring in the waning seconds before the first of two Wild empty-netters, but the Wild held on for a 4-2 victory to take home-ice advantage and put itself in a position to take a stranglehold on the series Saturday at 2 p.m. (NBC).
Lots of great Wild efforts all over the ice. Matt Dumba scored and battled all night, Charlie Coyle played a big boy's game with Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker put St. Louis on its heels early, Sean Bergenheim provided solid shifts from the fourth line, Stewart was physical and blocked a Barret Jackman outlet that led to Dumba's goal, Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line had a solid game, the defensemen looked good, etc. Wild scored two power-play goals (one was empty-net by Pominville, and gave up one shorthanded goal, the first shortie against since Jan. 3).
The Wild, 1-9 on the road in the past two postseasons, snapped a seven-game Game 1 losing streak with its first Game 1 win since the first-ever Game 1 way back on April 10, 2003, against Colorado.
The Wild was especially strong in the second period, holding the Blues to four shots and none in the final 8 minutes, 32 seconds. The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:47 into the game on an awesome goal by Zucker.
With the Wild on a line change, Zucker caught Zbynek Michalek off guard by turning on his jets and flying into the offensive zone. Zucker took a tight-angle shot, Jake Allen kicked the rebound right to him and in one motion, Zucker sped to the other side of the net with Allen out of position and tucked the puck inside the post with the puck sticking to his blade like it was glued there.
“That guy's a speed demon there,” Allen said. “Good play by him. Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him.”
The Wild played an OK first. Five or six good chances, but a lot of one and done’s in the offensive zone and sloppy in its own zone. But in the second, after Matt Dumba scored his first career playoff goal on a power play, it was all Wild.
“They outplayed us in the second,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They were quicker on pucks, they were faster in the zone. We took some penalties that gave them some momentum, gave them a chance to rest. We didn’t build on the good first period.”
Hitchcock said you have to play simple games in the playoffs, and when the Blues got frustrated being kept to the outside, they played a “very complicated game and it made us look slow.”
The Wild, on the other hand, looked fast for large chunks of the game. Even in the first, the Wild was able to get going with speed and that was especially the case in the second when it sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
Things got hairy in the third when Jaden Schwartz scored on a redirection, but Mikael Granlund scored with an empty-net. That was big because Alex Steen scored with 58.7 seconds left. Finally Jason Pominville scored with an empty-net to seal the deal.
Devan Dubnyk picked up the win with 19 saves in his debut. The Blues are now 4-13 in the playoffs and as I wrote in my gamer you can read on startribune.com/wild, the pressure is squarely on them now after their past playoff losses.
“We have to leave this one behind and take the good things out of it but move to the second one,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We know the further it’s going to go the tougher it’s going to get. We have to enjoy this one for a couple minutes and start to prepare for Saturday’s game.”
Coach Mike Yeo said, “That’s a good start for us. I think we have to make sure that we use this game, we look at the video and there’s certainly some areas where we know we can be better. But a lot of good things to take from it, for sure.”
Dumba had a great game, and not just the goal. He battled all night. Yeo said, “He’s a strong kid. He’s a competitive kid, and certainly not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got the skating ability to escape and help us execute in certain situations, but he’s got that competitive nature that’s a huge part of it too, especially against a team like this. It’s one thing to say you want to execute, but they’re going to find a way to create some turnovers and you’re going to have to find some opportunities to separate guys from pucks. That’s not an easy team to do it against.”
Dumba, during his celebration, said some words into his left elbow. Dumba was coy about what he was saying and said he may tell us after the playoffs.
Here’s some of David Backes’ thoughts:
“They came out and played a solid road game and we needed to capitalize on a few more chances, create scrums around their net with loose pucks. We just didn't get to the inside enough. The result is they win the special teams battle by a goal and a 2-1 lead before the empty-netters.
“I think we got better as the game went along. I don't know if it was nerves or too much time off or what. We didn't bring our 'A' game from the drop of the puck and they were able to score a goal early and then add a power play goal after that. Combination of staying out of the box... I've got to block that or Petro's got to block that; Jake can't see it. We'll take blame and blame where it's due and need a much better effort on Saturday. But the good thing we know it's in this room to bring that better effort.
“I think it's a conscious effort by us to go set up shop in front of their net. We finally did. Schwartzy gets a nice tip and scores a goal there from getting there. That's what we need to do. We can't do it again until Saturday, but one game's in the books. They get a 1-0 lead. Now's the time for us to make a few adjustments and find a way to win the next one.
“He made all the saves he was supposed to and on some he shouldn't. The power play goal he can't see because we're in lanes but not blocking pucks. The wraparound, (Zucker) gets around there pretty quick. He makes a pretty good play.
“You get down one at home and you hope to pick it up a notch and that'd be a wakeup call. It almost took until the third period until we finally got our legs going and played our brand of hockey. We had great chances and created o-zone time, looked more like our game and we needed that for a full 60 in order to win games against this team and another chance on Saturday.”
Lots more in the paper from Chip and I, and quotes in the game story from Zach Parise, Dumba, Dubnyk and Yeo.
Good win. Lots of series still to go, but great start. Talk to you after Friday’s practice. By the way, I'll be doing a 2 p.m. live chat on startribune.com before Game 3 Monday.