ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues are bigger and stronger and, if they flexed in the mirror, probably ripped with more muscles.
They want to pound and pound and pound until their opponent withers. That’s been a successful formula for them.
The Wild didn’t wither Thursday night.
Instead, the Wild withstood and countered with speed. And despite being knocked around some, the Wild revealed its own toughness, too.
The Wild couldn’t have scripted Game 1 any better as a rebuttal to all the conversation about the Blues’ advantage in size and brawn.
The Wild scored early, dictated its desired pace and stood nose-to-nose with the rugged Blues in earning a 4-2 victory that undoubtedly will create anxiety around St. Louis for the next few days.
“As a whole, we played a solid game, a smart game,” Zach Parise said.
That’s probably the best way to summarize the Wild’s performance. Smart. Tough, too.
It wasn’t always perfect, and the third period was filled with tense moments, but the Wild executed the plan it drew up. Play fast and limit the Blues’ ability to wear them down.
“We want to play a speed game, that’s no secret,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We did some things that allowed us at certain times to get to our speed and to have it be effective.”
The main story line entering the series focused on the contrasting styles of the two teams, speed vs. size.
The Wild won Round 1 decisively, finishing with more shots, more blocked shots and more hits than the Blues.
Everything was predicated on establishing pace.
“For us, when we’re playing well, that’s what we’re doing,” Parise said. “That’s one of our strengths, playing a fast game, a speed game. We want to dictate the pace of the game.”
The Wild played strong, positional hockey to stymie the Blues. The Wild blocked 20 shots (12 in the first period alone) and retrieved pucks out of its own end to neutralize the Blues’ ability to play physical.
Most impressive, though, was the Wild’s willingness to play physical, too. The Wild outhit the Blues 25-22, which few would have predicted before the series.
“We need to support each other,” captain Mikko Koivu said.
Players battled hard along the boards, in the corners, everywhere. Chris Stewart delivered — and received — some punishment against his former team.
Charlie Coyle threw his body around with purpose. Young Matt Dumba didn’t back down from one-on-one battles. Nino Niederreiter initiated contact.
The Wild took some lumps and ended up on the ice after a number of jarring collisions. But the Blues’ strength — their muscle — wasn’t an advantage in the least.
The Wild just kept attacking, particularly in the second period.
“We know our speed is one of our biggest assets,” Dumba said.
The Wild needed a fast start to gain some confidence and create uneasiness in the arena. The Blues have been bounced in the first round the past two postseasons, and a Game 1 loss practically guarantees this will be an antsy town until Game 2 on Saturday.
The mood in the Wild’s locker room was businesslike.
“You’ve got to leave this one behind,” Koivu said. “We know the further it’s going to go, the tougher it’s going to get.”
The script should stay the same. The Wild received important contributions up and down the lineup, a testament to its depth.
Jason Zucker scored less than three minutes into the game on a nifty wraparound goal after grabbing his own rebound on a bad-angle shot. That goal set the perfect tone.
Dumba showed no signs of big-game nerves in his playoff debut and gave the Wild a 2-0 lead on a power-play rocket in the second period.
Ryan Suter hustled back to stop a potential scoring chance. Dubnyk made clutch saves, as usual. Jared Spurgeon blocked five shots.
The list goes on and on.
“We know they’re a really good team, and we expect them to play a really good game,” Parise said. “There is room for us to improve. But it was a good start.”