Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-1 loss against the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the First Round:
The pushback was bound to happen. The Minnesota Wild fired the opening shots in the first game of the series, but the St. Louis Blues defended home ice in Game 2. After the first two contests in the Gateway City, the series moves to the State of Hockey tied and is shaping up to be a long one with two evenly matched teams going back and forth.
After a pair of first period goals by Vladimir Tarasenko, the Wild tried to claw its way back into the game. However, Blues netminder Jake Allen thwarted Minnesota’s attempts and got a little help from his friends when he needed it. Trailing by a single goal in the third period, Thomas Vanek slipped the puck to Charlie Coyle cruising down the middle of the ice. The center made a quick move and fired a wrister off the crossbar with 8:41 left in the game. The puck bounced off the pipe and hit Allen in the back. It started to inch towards the goal line, but David Backes cleared it before crossing the threshold.
The Wild generated its fair share of offensive chances, but came up just short. Though the club was unable to generate more than a single goal, Minnesota has to be happy about going home with the series tied, 1-1.
If the intensity level of hockey games had a dial, tonight’s contest would’ve needed Spinal Tap’s special 11 amplifier. Game 2 looked and felt much more like a playoff tilt compared to the opener. The Blues wanted to set a physical tone early, starting the game with the Ryan Reaves on the wing with David Backes and T.J. Oshie. The teams combined for 35 hits, IN THE FIRST PERIOD. Each team averaged nearly a hit per minute in the first 20 (St. Louis had 18, the Wild had 17). The game ended with each club throwing 36 hits.
Even goaltender Devan Dubnyk got into the physical action in the second period. He must’ve grown tired of notorious agitator Steve Ott’s act and took matters into his own hands. The Blues forward was in front of the net and Dubnyk chopped the back of his legs like he was carving a path deep in the jungle with a machete. It wasn’t all that surprising though, the netminder was just doing what the rest of the League would probably like to do to Ott.
Tarasenko is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the League, leading the Blues in scoring during the regular season. In the opening period, the Russian sniper scored a pair of goals. On his first, he kept his feet moving while the puck circled the perimeter. When he saw his linemate, Alexander Steen, with it at the top of the circles and preparing to throw it on net, he made a direct line to the crease. The wing kept his hands free in traffic and redirected the puck past Dubnyk. His second came on the power play, beating Dubnyk from a bad angle with little room between the netminder’s pad and post. It’s crazy to think about it, but Tarasenko is used on the Blues’ second power play unit.
Early in the second period, the wing received a pass near the left faceoff dot with time and room. The net was dead in his sights and he went to release a quick wrist shot, but his twig snapped in half like a pretzel stick. It looked like a broken shaft was the only thing that could stop the sniper today. It took a few more cracks, but Tarasenko completed the hat trick in the third, firing it into an empty net with Dubnyk pulled for an extra skater.
While Tarasenko’s second goal was one Dubnyk would like to have back, the Wild couldn’t buy a break against Allen. With the team on the power play in the second period, Ryan Suter went to wrap the puck in along the glass; only the puck hit a stanchion and bounced on net. Allen never saw it and the biscuit hit his leg pad. It bounded around between his legs, but the goaltender recovered and jumped on the puck before the Wild could take advantage of the bad hop.
Towards the end of the second, Minnesota had a shorthanded chance that was only inches from going in. Jason Zucker rushed down the right wing, cut to the middle and fired the puck just wide of the net. It bounced onto the tape of Mikko Koivu, who threw it on goal. However, Jaden Schwartz, who was backchecking on the play and fell into Allen, knocked down the shot attempt and cleared the puck.
The Wild finally caught a break, literally and figuratively, 1:46 into the third. Vanek skated down the left side and made a drop pass to Marco Scandella for a one-timer from the blue line. The defenseman wound up for a big blast, but his stick broke in half on impact. Rather than hammering it on goal, the puck slowly skidded to the net like a soccer mom traversing an icy parking lot. However, the change-up fooled Allen, who didn’t react as it meandered past his pad.
It seems like there’s never a dull moment for the Wild. Just before the team took the ice for warmups, we learned that Justin Fontaine wouldn’t play due to an illness. With Fontaine out, the Wild inserted Jordan Schroeder, who made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, into the lineup. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that he wanted a right-handed shot in the lineup to replace the right-handed Fontaine.
The club also played Matt Cooke, who is the team leader in playoff games (104), on the fourth line for Sean Bergenheim. Without Fontaine, the team was down a penalty killer, the reason for Cooke replacing Bergenheim on the fourth line.