There were seven minutes remaining in the second period when the playoff game between the Wild and the St. Louis Blues had a brief pause. At this point, the arena sound was hijacked for an announcement on the evening’s attendance.
The buildup was dramatic and then the voice boomed that the crowd numbered 19,404, the largest of this season and the third-largest playoff gathering in franchise history.
The lemmings in the expensive jerseys cheered mightily for themselves, as has been the case for 163 consecutive sellouts in the regular season and playoffs for the Wild.
A more appropriate reaction in Friday’s second period would have been for the customers to storm the box office and demand a refund.
The Wild was mediocre in the first period and discombobulated in the second. The Blues were nursing a 1-0 lead as they had for much of Wednesday night’s opener, with this goal coming at 3:51 of the second on a blast from defenseman Joel Edmundson, Game 1’s overtime hero.
St. Louis was not hanging on for dear life as was the case in Game 1. It had more puck possession in the second period and had turned the Wild into a mess. It took some kindness from referees Kevin Pollock and Brad Meier to get the Wild’s skates moving again.
First, a penalty was called on the Blues’ Alexander Steen for holding a stick at 16:34, and then 36 seconds later, Scottie Upshall was given an elbowing penalty. The fans were now making noise for a reason other than their presence in the arena, and it took Zach Parise 34 seconds to tie the score on the 5-on-3.
As much as the Wild might have deserved better than a 2-1 overtime loss Wednesday, it deserved less than a 1-1 tie heading into the third period on Friday. Until those back-to-back penalties, the Blues had turned the contest into a slog and the Wild appeared incapable of changing the pace created by the strategy of Blues coach Mike Yeo.
The 10 minutes before the Wild was put on the two-man power play was the most impressive hockey seen from the Blues in the series.
“That was a pretty good example for the blueprint of how we want to play,’’ Yeo said. “It was a matter for us to get to that game.’’
The anticipation of the Wild loyalists had to be that the gift-wrapped tying goal would turn the play toward their heroes in the third period. Not really. There was a lot of action on the outside and not much in the middle of the ice.
The home team’s edge in shots was 24-22 for the night. Two nights earlier, it was 52-26 for the home team, and it looked as if goalie Jake Allen was the only player who gave St. Louis a chance in this series.
On Friday, the remaining Blues rose up and were at least the equal of the Wild. So now the St. Paul lads are down 2-0 and perhaps in a situation where they are facing both a white-hot goalie and an opponent that isn’t overwhelmed by their skating after all.
Yeo came in for his scheduled postgame media session and immediately fielded a question about his team’s improvement over Game 1. He had a message to deliver on that.
“We didn’t lose Game 1,’’ Yeo said. “We did enough things to win. Jake Allen wears a Blues jersey. He’s part of our team.’’
Yeo coached the Wild from the fall of 2011 until being fired on Feb. 14, 2016. He coached in 377 games, including 28 in the playoffs.
He’s matured immensely since he got the job as a 38-year-old, when he made it a habit to light up his team after many losses. Yeo wasn’t heated at all Friday, but obviously he was annoyed at the way Game 1 was covered — that if not for Allen, the Blues didn’t belong on the ice with the Wild.
We now know better than that. The better luck was with the home team on Friday, and the Wild still managed a second straight 2-1 loss when Jaden Schwartz sniped a game-winner with 2 ½ minutes remaining.
Yeo has underplayed the former-coach angle as much as possible, but there’s enough pride in winning a pair in St. Paul that he doesn’t want half of the accomplishment marked down as good fortune and nothing more.