Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the First Round:
There would be no ‘stealing’ of Game 1 for the Minnesota Wild. The club had a game plan coming into tonight’s contest and executed it better than Danny Ocean’s 11 pulling off a bank heist.
The Wild took the lead only 2:47 into the opening period and never looked back, playing a stifling defensive game that we’ve come to expect. It was only the second Game 1 victory in franchise history, moving to 2-7 all-time during the opening match of a Stanley Cup Playoffs series. The Wild has to be confident in the way it kept St. Louis outside of the scoring areas. The Blues mustered only four shots in second period and 21 in the game, 10 coming in the final period when it was trailing. When St. Louis did get a chance, Wild players sacrificed their bodies, blocking 20 shots in 60 minutes. Minnesota takes the Blues’ home ice advantage, however, it’s only the first of a seven-game series, which restarts on Saturday.
If you were anticipating a physical contest (which I think most everyone was), you might’ve been a little surprised. The game saw its fair share of finished checks, but it lacked the bloodlust that people (like me) might’ve been expecting. Both clubs were disciplined, kept the physical play between whistles and didn’t engage in many scrums during stoppages. Of course, this was only Game 1 and tempers can escalate quicker than Willy Wonka’s magical Chocolate Factory elevator over the course of a best-of-seven series.
The story of the season in Minnesota, and possibly the entire NHL, has been goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The 28-year-old led the Wild into the postseason and secured his first playoff win in his first appearance. Dubnyk didn’t have to stand on his head, but he made stops early to give the rest of the club confidence, something he’s done since arriving in the State of Hockey.
Dubnyk has been a calming presence in the Wild net since arriving from Arizona on Jan. 14. While he sometimes has a fiery mood in the crease at times, he seems to be able to lower his heart rate at a moments notice. In the third period, Blues forward Ryan Reaves got caught up in the netminder’s pads and his skate came up high in Dubnyk’s neck area. Luckily, the blade didn’t penetrate the goaltender’s neck guard. It looked like he wasn’t happy with Reaves getting so close in the crease, but quickly shook it off and went back to making saves.
There are little moments, split-second decisions, which impact the final outcome of each and every hockey game. Zigging when a player should’ve zagged can mean the difference between winning and losing.
In the first period, Jason Zucker made a choice that led to the game’s first goal. The speedy winger carried the puck from his own end and skated towards the Blues’ blue line. Just outside of the zone, he began a toe-drag, looking like he was going to dump the puck in along the boards. However, midway through the motion, he changed his mind. Blues defenseman Zbynek Michalek was backpedaling and gave the swift lefty just enough daylight. Rather than firing the puck in, Zucker corralled the puck, carried it over the blue line and darted wide. Four seconds later, the biscuit was in the Blues’ basket, the Las Vegas native picking up his own rebound and wrapping it in for his second career playoff goal.
If the NHL’s postseason is a collection of minuscule instances, the team that lifts the Stanley Cup will have a briefcase full of memorable plays that will live forever. A rookie scoring his first career playoff goal is one such memory…
Before the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that he didn’t want the team to hesitate when shooting. Well, defenseman Matt Dumba isn’t the type to delay anything in his game and took his coach’s advice to heart. With the Wild on the first power play of the series during the second period, the blueliner pumped home one of his patented one-time blast for his first career postseason marker.
After the goal, the blueliner covered his mouth during his celebration. Fans on Twitter believed that he was coughing, the reason he politely covered his mouth. However, I think he was respectfully concealing his mouth for another reason. Sometimes when the emotions are high and the player is pumped up, they’ll let out some uncouth language that is caught by the television cameras. It’s pretty easy to read lips with phrases like, “Truck, yeah!” or “Banana split!” (of course I cleaned it up, this is a family website). So, the youngster was mindful of the national audience with children watching at home. If you saw the broadcast, the cameras went to the bench and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock after the power play goal. Hitchcock was not so mindful and the cameras aired him dropping sailor language.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu is the franchise leader in a number of categories, including assists (356), points (500) and multi-point games (115). During the season, he became the first Minnesota player to rack up 500 points in a Wild sweater.
Tonight, he became the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff games played (40), surpassing Marian Gaborik. However, if you ask the Finn, he’ll tell you that the individual accolades and numbers pale in comparison to achieving his ultimate goal: bringing the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey. This marks the fifth time he’s entered the postseason and the deepest lineup around the center. Koivu added an assist on Jason Pominville’s empty net goal, icing the game. The 32-year-old played his typical two-way game, winning battles and playing responsibly at both ends of the ice. He’s a big reason the club was able to keep the Blues scoring chances at a minimum and will look to keep it going in Game 2.