For the second year in a row, the Wild is among the final eight NHL teams standing.
For the third straight year, the Wild will have to get by the Chicago Blackhawks in order to advance.
We have a ton of content that will be in Monday’s newspaper and startribune.com/wild, and here's a list of that stuff:
I will really start to delve into advancing the conference semifinals against the Blackhawks in Tuesday’s paper. As you know, the Wild has been eliminated the past two postseasons by the Hawks, so you know the Wild would love a third stab at one of the NHL’s elite.
Tons of weapons on the Hawks from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad to Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook.
Their biggest weapon traditionally against the Wild is Bryan Bickell, so maybe that will end up being this series, “Will you shadow” Player X question posed to Mike Yeo when availability begins Tuesday (the Wild has its first full day off since the playoffs began Monday).
I say that only half-kiddingly.
The schedule isn’t out yet. Originally if this Wild-Blues series went to Game 7 (oh, did I tell you yet the Wild won, 4-1, tonight?), Game 1 of the next series was supposed to start Friday, I was told. I’m not sure if it’ll be the same now that this series ended. We shall see, hopefully Monday.
Big win for the Wild in a strange series with little momentum, no one-goal games, no overtimes and the Wild outplaying the Blues for the much of the series (except for Game 4, of course).
Mike Yeo made many bars run out of Bloody Mary mix, the Wild ended up finally clinching a series before Game 7 and for the first time won a series in front of their appreciative home crowd of almost 20K strong.
The Blues will have big changes now that they lost in the first round for a third consecutive season. You can bet on that.
Since I listed the articles above, I’m going to mostly dump some quotes here if you don’t mind.
By the way, I will be on Rosen’s Sports Sunday tonight at 10:30 on Ch. 4 with Paul Allen and Monday morning at 9:15 I will be in studio with Paul at KFAN for awhile.
Zach Parise, who scored two goals and two assists in last year’s Game 6 of the first round to help force a Game 7, scored twice tonight (today, but I’m still here).
The game got off to a terrific start for the Wild. It was all Minnesota in a first period the Wild outshot the Blues, 10-4. With the Wild shorthanded, Matt Cooke knocked Paul Stastny off the puck in the Wild end.
Kevin Shattenkirk was surprised to get the puck, couldn’t control it and turned it over to Parise, who burst out of the defensive zone.
Going 1 vs. 3, Parise hustled past Shattenkirk, through the left circle and almost to the goal line near the left corner when he fired from the odd angle to beat Jake Allen for the seven shorthanded goal in Wild history and a 1-0 lead.
In the third, with Brian Elliott in after Justin Fontaine’s eventual winning goal forced Allen out of the game, Parise scored again 61 seconds into the third – a great response to T.J. Oshie scoring with 3.4 seconds left in the second.
Like he did in Game 3, Mikael Granlund blew by Vladimir Tarasenko in the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush. He gave the puck to linemate Jason Pominville, who fired. Elliott left the rebound in the crease and Parise scored his 29th career playoff goal and tied Marian Gaborik for the franchise all-time lead with 22 playoff points.
“It feels good to contribute, and win, most importantly, to be a part of that win,” Parise said. “It was a tough game, and they made a really good push in the second period. We talked before the game about being patient and waiting for our opportunities, and I thought we did a good job.”
These quotes will all be Parise:
On closing out the series: “Any time you can get extra rest, that's important. Closing out series is always hard. You expect the opposition to bring a great game and a tough game, and they did that tonight. But like I said, it's always the hardest thing getting that fourth one. Fortunate we were able to do that tonight and not have to go back to St. Louis.”
On being on the big stage: “There's a lot of hockey stuff in play, but I think any athlete wants to be a part of the big-stage games. Any athlete wants to be involved in the game and take part in it. From top to bottom, I think all of our guys did a really good job.”
On his shorty: “I thought when Shattenkirk came at me rather than backing off, I thought I had good body position on him and was able to get around him. I figured I would at least try to get a shot or try to make something happen.”
Message now: “Don't get me wrong. It's great for us to win and beat a really good St. Louis team, and we should enjoy it, and enjoy it for a couple days and now look forward to our series against Chicago. That's a team that's knocked us out for the last couple years, so we've got to be ready for them.”
On the first line: “I thought we had our moments. I'd like for us to -- I think we can get some more offensive-zone time, but against these guys, that's tough. We were able to capitalize on some rushes. But we had games where we played well. We had games where we could've been better. We were able to get some big goals for our team, and that's what we're supposed to do.”
Is he rubbing off on teammates with his relentlessness: “You'll have to ask them, but I try to be a lead-by-example type of guy and type of player. Hopefully, that stuff is contagious and rubs off”
Confidence of team: “We've been playing like that for a long time. The way we rebounded after a really tough Game 4, to go back into St. Louis, a tough place, and win a game there, give ourselves a chance to win the series. It's a hard thing to do, and I thought we rebounded really well.”
Resilience: “We've been doing that for a long time. We haven't really had a lot of room. We've been playing in tight games. We've been playing in games, for a long time, that we've had to win, so we're comfortable doing that. But the fourth one's always hardest. You expect a great game from the other team, and we did well to capitalize when we had some chances tonight.”
On his fist pump, fist pump, punch of glass, flyby celebration on second goal: “I was really excited. I was really happy after that one, just with them getting the late one in the second. We wish we would've been able to come in here after the second up 2-0, and unfortunately they got a little life. We were able to get one right away. I was pretty pumped up.”
Jason Pominville quotes: “Obviously got a bounce on it. We got a couple bounces on ours. Twenty minutes at home to find a way to get into the next round, up by one, I think we would have taken that any time of the year, especially three months ago when you look at where we were and we stuck with it, found a way and obviously we’re pretty excited about it.”
Remarkable where you were in January- “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I think we definitely made some strides. We’ve been playing some better hockey. We’ve been better as we’ve been moving along, which is a good sign going into the playoffs. But this is one step and we’ve got to keep looking at what’s ahead of us and we’ve got a chance to play a team that we’ve seen quite a bit in recent years. Hopefully this time’s the right one.”
Way you played them in playoffs give you confidence- “They’re a tough team to play against. Just look at last night, they’re down by three with less than 10 minutes into the game and they find a way to bounce back into it. They’ve got a lot of firepower. They can defend. They do a lot of good things. It’s not going to be easy, but obviously taking notes on what we did last year. It’s a different year, but we know we can play with those guys. Hopefully, like I said, this is the year.”
Watch them last night- “I watched on and off, but I saw the comeback. I didn’t see the first three goals and then I kind of saw them getting back into the game and I stopped watching after that.”
Different style from Blues- “It will be a different type of game. Their speed, their counterattack, their skill is definitely in the top of the league, so it’s going to be a little bit different. Not to take anything away from these guys, they’re big, they’re physical, but they definitely have some guys that can make you pay too if you make a mistake. It’s going to be a battle.”
Confidence is high, seems you’re ready to do something – “Yeah, hopefully. We’ve had to be ready for a little while now just to get in. We got in feeling good about our game and kind of snowballed effect through the first round. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Now that we’re past first one, we got to look at what’s ahead of us. But knowing that we’ve played these guys the last couple of years, it’s not going to be easy. They’re a good team. They’re an elite team. They’ve proven it. We got to be up for the task.”
Devan Dubnyk quotes:
Response after late goal in second? “Obviously it would have been nice to go into the third with a two-goal lead instead. But that’s a great part of this group. Nobody was upset in between periods. We were still in a great situation and we were playing good hockey. There was nothing really said after the period and nothing needed to be said. We knew we had to go out and do a job. For us to go out there and score a goal right away just shows you that we were not going to sit back and we were going to come out and go get it. That makes it a little easier to finish off.”
Story continues? “It’s awesome. I was thinking about it over the last couple days. It just feels right. It feels right for our group to be where we are and to continue to move forward. That’s why it’s easy to go out and play and feel like we’re going to win because we’ve done it all year. Hopefully we can continue doing that.”
Reaction from fans? “No surprise how loud it was going to get today. We just stick to our plan and they push us and cheer us on for every little play that we do. It’s such a smart crowd and a crowd that understands hockey. They cheer every single play and it motivates you to keep going.
Mike Yeo quotes:
On the Oshie goal: “That is something that could be a backbreaker for your team. Emotionally, you start thinking oh no, we just blew a two-goal lead and the next thing you know you start hanging on too much. I like the way we regrouped. I like the way we came out in the third period. I didn’t think our second period was particularly good. We turned some pucks over and we weren’t quite as tight as we normally were that allowed them to come at us a little bit more. So we were in a little bit of survival mode, and so you give up that one at the end of the period, that could be kind of an emotional blow, but the guys responded the right way and third goal was huge for us.”
On Parise: I’ll start by giving him an unbelievable amount of credit that he deserves, that that whole line deserves. But again, this is a time for guys certainly to be recognized individually but also collectively as a group. Every guy put in everything that we needed them to. We said that before the game, we can’t have any regrets here, we have to leave it all out there on the ice. And I thought our guys did that. that’s a great team. It’s a great accomplishment what we just did. By all means, everybody feels the same way, we’re not done. But that’s a heck of a hockey team, a very well-coached hockey team. You have to fight for every inch out there. To be here and start getting ready for the second round is a great accomplishment for our group.
When did you decide to put Parise back on the PK (read the Fontaine-led notebook to understand why I asked this): “He’s a great penalty-killer, and right now, we can’t be just making decisions on trying to be safe. We have to do what we have to do to win hockey games and every moment is critical. He’s a great penalty-killer and we’ve seen from him.”
The play Matt Cooke made on that goal: “He had a really good game, I thought that line played a really strong game. We gave them some tough matchups. We counted on them in some defensive matchup roles and they saw every line out there. They had a real good purpose in how they were going to play and what their identity was and that was definitely a key line for us tonight.”
thoughts on what it means for franchise: Again, I said it’s a great accomplish. I think winning at home, it’s the first time we’ve ever done that, that was something that was very important to our group, to win in front of our fans. Obviously you don’t want to go back and play that team in a Game 7 in their building. We knew that. But again, it meant a lot to us to try to win this game in front of our fans. They deserved that tonight. But it’s a good accomplishment. Three straight years we’ve been to the playoffs and a couple of years now that we’ve won a round, but nobody’s satisfied with that. We weren’t last year, and we’re even less this year. I think that’s a good thing. But we know that we’re up against a tough challenge in the next round as well.
facing Chicago: Well they beat us the last couple years so I think that we maybe played a little bit better last year, but we came up on the short end. So we have to find a way to be better.
what mean to you to coach this team: Well, first off, it starts with leadership and for me, certainly, I feel like I’m a lucky guy. But that’s not just me; it’s my entire staff. I’m lucky because I’m well-surrounded by my staff. But our leadership group is outstanding. We’ve got a bunch of guys; I consider them leaders. They’re willing to do the little things that go unnoticed. They’re willing to do those things to win hockey games. There’s a lot of pride in that room.
Fontaine, his maturity: A lot of composure in his game. If you’re going to protect a lead, you have to be good defensively and be in good position. He does all of those things. But you can’t defend all the time, too, especially against a team like that. The more we can get to the offensive zone, the more we can execute through the neutral zone, he does those things. He seems to make the smart play, the right play with the puck every time he gets it, and he’s a threat. He gives you the option. Obviously you can call him a checking line, but he has the ability to make plays. We’ve used him in more scoring situations or roles this year, and he’s come through for us. He’s certainly a very versatile player.
On Dubnyk: The story continues. That’s what we’re hoping for here, and I think there’s more to this story, but his play was outstanding. Again, that team challenges you. They challenge you in a lot of different ways, get a lot of pucks to the net, and I think as much as anything, it’s sort of his demeanor that trickles through to the rest of the group. There was a play in the third period where they got forecheck pressure, and he kind of hangs on to the puck and shows some unreal composure with the puck. That kind of stuff, that’s contagious to the group. When your goalie’s playing confident, when the heat is on, I think that the rest of the group feeds off that.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock kept it short in the postgame press conference. When asked to name the biggest factor in the series loss, he said the Blues “probably got into (their) A game a little bit late,’’ praising them for their play over the final three games after the slow start to the series.
His team, Hitchcock said, lacked the timely scoring and timely saves that are mandatory for playoff success. The Blues scored only 14 goals in the series, with Vladimir Tarasenko getting six of those. The second- through fifth- leading scorers in the regular season—Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes and T.J. Oshie—finished with one goal each.
“It was either feast or famine,’’ Hitchcock said of the Blues’ scoring. “(The Wild) made us work for our chances. We had a lot in Game 5, but they made us work for them, and we didn’t score. The game is on the line; it’s us and the goalie three times in period two, and us and the goalie three times in period three, when it’s on the line, and we didn’t finish it. You can dissect that all you want. But the biggest thing for me is, it’s hard to win when you’re chasing games all the time. We were chasing too many games.’’
Hitchcock is working on a year-to-year contract that expires this summer, raising questions about his future with the Blues after four seasons in St. Louis. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk expects General Manager Doug Armstrong to make changes, saying “Army is not a guy who’s going to sit back and let this happen year after year.’’ But Shattenkirk defended the coach ,saying the loss was on the players.
“Hitch has been the reason why we’ve been (in the playoffs) for four years,’’ he said. “He’s hard on us, but he does it because he knows the right way and how to get to this position. You can never take that away from the way he coaches. He coaches fundamentals. It’s something we needed and we were able to get here because of him.
“Every time, it’s on us. It’s on the players first. It was a tough series to swallow. You’re almost in shock that this just happened. … We do what we need to do in the regular season, and once the postseason hits, we’re not able to get over that hump. It’s just a very frustrating thing to deal with year after year. We’ll have to see what happens now, what the next step is.’’
Goalie Jake Allen took the loss hard. Pulled at 11:19 of the second period after allowing his second goal of the game—a softie by Justin Fontaine that slipped through the five-hole Allen failed to close—he bit his lip in a postgame interview and put much of the responsibility on himself.
Allen, a rookie, had played every minute of the series before he was pulled Sunday and allowed 12 goals on 125 shots.
“Two terrible goals again. I just let us down,’’ Allen said. “I was more focused today than I ever was all year. Just two bad goals that can’t go in this time of year. Right now, it’s going to sit with me in a terrible way for a while. It was my job to keep the team in it; I let in a soft one, and it was a bad goal.
“This isn’t acceptable for any of us. This isn’t going to sit well with any of us for a while, and it’s going to be tough to watch the rest of the playoffs knowing we’re not in it. … It’s going to be a little while before I can think and start to move forward. This is not the way our season was supposed to end. Not even close.’’
Hitchcock deflected blame from Allen. “He’s a young guy,’’ the coach said. “He’s going to gain a lot of knowledge from this. I don’t think it’s time to pile on the goalie or anything like that. He’s a young guy, he learned a lot, he’s going to figure it out. He’s going to be a good goalie.’’
Monday is an off day for the Wild and it’ll be a work day for me pounding the keyboard, so there may not be a blog as I begin our advance coverage for the next round.
You’re stuck with me for a little (or a lot) longer.