Last season, Nathan MacKinnon scorched the Wild in Colorado’s first three home games of a first-round playoff series, registering one four-point game and two three-point games.
When the series switched to Minnesota, however, MacKinnon was held to no points and four shots in three games. Large credit was given to Erik Haula, who covered Mac- Kinnon like a blanket because coach Mike Yeo had the last line change at home and was able to get the speedy Haula out to shadow MacKinnon most shifts.
Things might be very different a year later though. Even though Vladimir Tarasenko scored three goals in the St. Louis’ Blues Game 2 victory, Yeo didn’t seem Sunday as if he was leaning toward deploying the same strategy by playing Haula in Monday’s Game 3.
Haula, coming off a disappointing 14-point, minus-7 regular season, was scratched in the series’ first two games after not playing in three of the final six games of the regular season.
The Wild held Tarasenko to no shots on goal (he did have six shots blocked) in Game 1, and Yeo said he didn’t want to “rush to too many conclusions after one game.”
“He’s going to find ways to make plays, and he’s a challenge no matter who is on the ice,” Yeo said of Tarasenko. “You can’t just put one guy and shadow him because he’s got other guys out there that would take you out of your system.”
Yeo said MacKinnon largely hurt the Wild 5-on-5 off the rush. “Last year, it was a very specific speed matchup that we were looking for,” Yeo said.
While Tarasenko can score off the rush, Yeo said “he’s also willing to go to the hard areas, so it’s a different challenge.”
Subtly, that might be Yeo’s rationale if he chooses not to play Haula in Game 3. Yeo has been displeased with Haula’s willingness to pay the price in the dirty areas of the rink.
Additionally, the last change strategy against the Blues could be quite different from what it was against Colorado because St. Louis is much deeper.
“They have solid lines and six good D,” Zach Parise said. “So regardless of who you’re playing against, you have to make plays. They don’t give you freebies.”
Fontaine’s return likely
Justin Fontaine, who missed Game 2 because of a stomach bug, is expected to play Monday. If so, he likely would replace Jordan Schroeder. At left wing on the fourth line, Yeo wouldn’t say if he would go with Sean Bergenheim, who played Game 1; Matt Cooke, who played Game 2; or Ryan Carter or Haula.
“We have options,” said Yeo, adding that when you make adjustments in the playoffs, “are you doing them because it’s something that’s not working, something that needs to be changed or is it something that you can do better? I think that’s our focus right now.”
‘Seal the post’
It appears one Blues strategy to exploit Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk is to shoot from tight angles to his left and right. Three times early in Game 1, the Blues shot pucks from the corner, and Tarasenko’s winning goal in Game 2 came from a tight angle.
“I’m not surprised,” Dubnyk said. “Their mentality, especially early in a series, is to put pucks to the net right away. I know they’d be coming from the corner like that.”
Asked how to defend that, Dubnyk said, “Just hold your post. That was my mistake [on Tarasenko’s winner]. I need to trust that I don’t need to cheat on the pass. Seal the post. … It’s just one of those basic fundamentals, and I messed up.”
• Left winger Jason Zucker, who blocked an Alex Pietrangelo shot with his left thumb Saturday, said he will play in Game 3. “I have no ill effects from anything at all,” Zucker said, smiling, with both hands in his pockets during an entire interview.
• If there are remaining tickets for Game 3, the Wild will release them for sale at 3 p.m. Monday.