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Wild getting a sneak peak at what playoff hockey will be like

Desperate Blues making life difficult for Wild after team clinched postseason berth last weekend

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- While the Stanley Cup Playoffs don't start for another couple of weeks, the Wild is getting a pretty good look at what life will be like in the postseason with its series of games against the St. Louis Blues.

The 2019 Stanley Cup champions seem to be finding their game again, just in time to make a push for the postseason. A desperate hockey club battling for their playoff lives, the Blues have come to Minnesota and taken the first two games of a three-game set, winning 5-4 in overtime on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.

While Minnesota has already punched its ticket to the playoffs, these games against the Blues have brought a playoff-like intensity to downtown St. Paul.

Video: Players Postgame vs St. Louis

"It's playoff hockey now where they have to get in the playoffs but we are desperate as well," said Wild forward Kevin Fiala. "We want to keep playing, keep winning, and get as high as possible in the standings. It's playoff hockey, of course yesterday and today was that type of game so hopefully we can get the next."

The Blues showed that desperation on Thursday, building a 3-0 lead midway through the second period.

But to the Wild's credit, it didn't mail it in. Not by a long shot.

Video: STL@MIN: Eriksson Ek scores after slick spin moves

Joel Eriksson Ek continued his blistering play of late, scoring late in the second period to get Minnesota on the board.

Ek now has 17 goals on the season, nine more than his previous career high in a season where he's played 13 fewer games. 

Video: Dean Evason postgame vs St. Louis

"He was an absolute beast. He just, it's incredible his drive, his will, his size, his strength. He is an absolute beast," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "He's just a hard, hard guy to play against. [The coaching staff] said in there, all of us ex-players, that he would be a tough guy to play against. Frustrating as hell." 

Video: STL@MIN: Fiala roofs Rask one-timer from sharp angle

Fiala then made it a one-goal game early in the third with a rifle of a shot that beat Ville Husso.

All of the sudden, a game that seemed out of reach late into the second period was just a one-goal deficit. 

Even after the Blues pushed its lead back to 4-2 with a power-play goal in the third period, Minnesota refused to back down.

Video: STL@MIN: Rask cuts Wild deficit with goal from circle

Victor Rask took a pass from Fiala and fired past Husso at 15:21, then Kirill Kaprizov, the Calder Trophy front runner, tied the game in the final minute of regulation, also taking a pass from Fiala and beating Husso with a great shot.

Fiala finished the game with three points, including a goal and two assists. The Wild outshot the Blues 21-12 over the final 40 minutes, but played its best hockey of the night in the third.

Video: STL@MIN: Kaprizov nets Fiala feed for tying goal late

Unfortunately, against a desperate team like the Blues, 20 really good minutes isn't enough. 

"What we saw last night was great two periods and not a great third. Tonight we saw two terrible periods and a great third," Evason said. "It's encouraging that we know it's there. It was almost like it was the same game just reversed and clearly we didn't get the result."

Minnesota fell to 1-2-2 in five games against St. Louis this season.

"They're a team that works hard. They've got great sticks. They get in a lot of passing lanes and make it difficult on you from that aspect. They do a lot of similar things that we do to teams," said Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. "It's a hard matchup, and I think this is good for us going into playoffs.

"They're a very desperate hockey club right now with the situation that they're in. I think we're right where we need to be. Clinched a playoff spot, and just working the kinks out of our game so we're ready come playoffs. It's all preparation for that now."


Postgame Hat Trick: Blues 5, Wild 4 (OT)

Video: MIN Recap: Fiala, Wild fall to Blues in 5-4 OT loss

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