First things first: Nobody got hurt in the Wild’s 4-2 regular-season-ending loss at St. Louis, a game the Blues handed the Wild its first road loss since Feb. 16 to snap the team’s NHL-record-tying 12-game road winning streak.
It got a little scary in the final minute when Robert Bortuzzo cross-checked Zach Parise hard to the ice, then Olli Jokinen did the same with a kidney shot. But Parise, after lifting himself up off the ice slowly and in pain, scored his 33rd goal, 11th power-play goal and 62nd point to finish his season.
But that would be all she wrote, and now the Wild awaits the outcome of Anaheim’s game at 29th-place Arizona. I guess we’ll see how much the players on the Ducks want to play Winnipeg (if they win in regulation or overtime) or the Wild (losing or winning in a shootout).
If the first scenario happens, the Wild plays the Blues. If the second scenario happens, the Wild plays the Ducks.
The schedule is expected to be released late tonight.
I will write more of a playoff preview in Monday’s paper with quotes from players with their thoughts.
Yeo and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gave several key players the game off. Captain Mikko Koivu, No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter, second-pair defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Justin Fontaine didn’t play for the Wild. The Blues were without captain David Backes, first-liner T.J. Oshie, top defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk and checker Steve Ott.
If the Wild had won, it would have needed Colorado to beat Chicago in regulation in order to play Nashville in the first round.
“It’s not like we dressed a lineup that we didn’t think was capable of winning,” Yeo said.
The Wild also played a strong first half of the game, held St. Louis without a shot for the first 10 minutes, to one overall in the first period and was the better team until the Blues struck first.
Dmitrij Jaskin, a sneaky good player, scored after the Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Stewart spent a long shift in the offensive zone but couldn’t convert. On this shift and the third goal – the first of two goals by sneaky good player (also) Jori Lehtera, Stewart’s backcheck was less than be desired.
Yeo felt it was a “Game 82 of the regular season” shift and “not a concern.”
Players said this is a tough game to play. Jason Pominville said you want to put on a good showing and win, but it’s also in the back of your mind that you don’t want to get hurt with the playoffs on the horizon.
He said some players were “going through the motions.”
It was the first time the Wild allowed more than two goals in 13 road games, and Devan Dubnyk watched the third period from the bench. The plan before the game was to put Darcy Kuemper in for the third, I believe, only if the Wild was down a couple goals.
The Wild was trailing 3-1.
To me, the biggest storyline of the game was that fourth-line left wing spot.
It was also a final audition for players like Matt Cooke, Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim. Those three forwards, along with scratched Ryan Carter and Jordan Schroeder, were essentially battling for one fourth-line left wing spot available for Game 1 of the playoffs.
The Zucker-Koivu-Stewart and Parise-Mikael Granlund-Pominville lines are set. Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are lineup locks, and Yeo has indicated that so are Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine.
Things can obviously change in a hurry with injury or one playoff loss, but this left one forward slot open for Game 1. Cooke and Haula assisted on Marco Scandella’s goal, were each plus-1 and weren’t on for St. Louis’ lone power-play goal.
“Some guys have helped themselves and some guys probably didn’t help themselves as much [the past few games],” Yeo said. “We have a lot of guys available that we know that can come in and be effective in different types of roles. You need depth this time of year. I know that it’s tough for the guys that are out of the lineup, but if you want to have any kind of run, you need that at your disposal.”
With the Wild set to play a heavy first-round opponent, Yeo admitted Cooke or Carter have the advantage.
“In the playoffs, you want to have guys that are able to finish checks and play a hard game and be tough to play against,” Yeo said.
Cooke, 36, may have the initial advantage on the other four forwards based on his 103 games of playoff experience and one Stanley Cup. He had two assists in two games since missing nine weeks with a sports hernia.
“I feel like my style is programmed for playoff-style hockey,” said Cooke, who said his skating was uninhibited the past two games.
He also thinks his hard-nosed style will be good against a big, physical opponent.
“Not that all our players can’t handle it, but it’s different than just playing against a team once,” Cooke said. “You’re potentially signing up to play seven straight games against a team. It has its cumulative effect.”
Cooke said it’s a numbers thing that he understands and a coach’s decision, but “I feel like I bring an element, physical play and penalty killing is something I take a lot of pride in. Those are two things important in the playoffs.”
Like I said, I’ll look more toward the first-round opponent Monday and will be back later tonight.