Monday, April 20, 2015

Lackluster Blues fall 3-0 to Wild in Game 3

Minnesota leads series 2-1 after dominating St. Louis in facets

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild reasserted their speed game and regained control of the Western Conference First Round series.

The Wild smothered the Blues in all facets, raced around the ice with the puck and limited the Blues' offensive chances to next to nothing in a 3-0 victory in Game 3 to go up 2-1 in the best-of-7 series Monday night before 19,165 at Xcel Energy Center.

Jason Pominville and Zach Parise each had a goal and an assist, and linemate Mikael Granlund had two assists. Goalie Devan Dubnyk made 17 saves for his first postseason shutout. Game 4 is set for Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (left) makes a save the Wild's Charlie Coyle (3)
in front of teammates Barret Jackman (5) and T.J. Oshie on Monday.

Instead of talking about a solid road victory, the Blues extended their road playoff woes. They have now lost nine straight (outscored 28-11) dating to April 19, 2012 in Game 4 of the first round at San Jose and the Blues have dropped three consecutive Game 3's (all on the road) via shutout. They lost 1-0 at Los Angeles in 2013, 2-0 at Chicago last season and the result Monday.

This Blues loss was discouraging in a number of ways. They were out-physicaled (which is supposed to be their brand of game with which they have success), they were certainly beaten in the speed element, and the Wild has been the better team as far as winning loose pucks and bring the grittier team in the so-called greasy areas.

There wasn't an area in which the Blues could claim they were better than Minnesota in Game 3 other than Jake Allen, who was the busier of the two goalies and who had to make more key saves throughout.

"You can't play 15-20 minutes against this team and expect to win games," Blues captain David Backes said. "We need a full 60-minute effort like we did in Game 2. 

"We've got another chance on Wednesday to assert ourselves for a 60-minute game with 20 guys on the ice and get a job done. Another lesson. Put this behind us and know that it's a battle out there, it's a war and it's going to take a great effort every night against this team. Here we go looking to Wednesday now."

The Blues withstood the first period and absorbed Minnesota's best aggression, including those of former teammate Chris Stewart, but were able to come out of the period scoreless. They were outshot 9-4.

"They played a good game from the start," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of the Wild. "We were slow from the start and they just stayed on top of us the whole game. We never really got back on top of it. They played a solid game at home and played with a lot of energy and we didn't have our best."

But instead of settling into the game and gaining some footing, the Blues regressed and it was all Minnesota in the second. 

Allen did all he could to keep the Wild off the board early, but the way play was going, eventually the Wild would score, and the line with Granlund, Parise and Pominville took charge.

Pominville broke the scoreless tie when he tapped in Parise's feed at 14:08.

Granlund blew by Tarasenko off the left wing, and the Blues nearly were able to avoid disaster when Carl Gunnarsson broke up Granlund's bid, but the puck came right to Parise, who slid a pass by Alex Pietrangelo and Pominville had the easy goal for a 1-0 lead.

Parise scored at 16:13 when Pominville won the puck along the boards, fed Parise in the slot with a backhand, and Parise outworked Jay Bouwmeester for the puck and snapped a shot from the slot over Allen for a 2-0 lead.

The Blues escaped the period being outshot 20-10 and could have been down more had it not been for Allen's splendid right pad save on Charlie Coyle earlier in the period. Thomas Vanek soon followed with a shot off the cross bar.

"They did a good job of using that long change in the second and staying on top of us," Shattenkirk said. "From our standpoint, everything was just too slow, too sloppy. Me especially, I was just very slow and not up to speed with my plays. That feeds through the whole team when something like that happens."

Nino Niederreiter added an empty-net goal for the Wild with 2:02 remaining.

The game featured a cast of horrors as far as handling the puck for the Blues, who looked downtrodden to the more superior Wild team.

And the Blues' top offensive threat (Vladimir Tarasenko, who had three goals and five shots in a victory in Game 2), has combined for no goals and no shots in the two losses.

"We were turning the puck over in the neutral zone and fed their transition," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We had a good start, started turning the pucks over, they were on us fast and a lot of it was what we did with the puck between the blue lines. That fed the engine. 

"... You're getting checked hard, so you have to make the decision on whether you're going to make the next play or find the ice behind them. We didn't find the ice behind them near enough until the third period, and they're sitting on it a little bit. They did a good job. They checked really hard; this is similar to what they did in Game 1. They checked us really hard and they got us to crack. Like I said, we did the right things early, got some pressure on them, and then started to try to make the next play."

Something definitely needs to change between now and Wednesday's game for the Blues to better equip themselves to attempt to get this series tied. For Allen, it's pretty simple.

"I just think play for 60 minutes," he said. "We did that the second game and came out on top; we didn't in the first game and we didn't come out on top. Their team game is going to be there from the start to the finish. They battle, every single line. We realize that now. Can't let the ball slip anymore."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Zbynek Michalek (6) and former Blue
Chris Stewart collide in action on Monday in St. Paul.

"We knew that was coming," Bouwmeester said. "We didn't respond to it very good. I don't know how many shots we had in the first two periods. But yeah, they got some momentum in the first and the second was probably worse. We were turning pucks over, couldn't get it out of our end ... they get a couple of goals. That was a tough one, but I think we got what we deserved. We didn't play good. Can't be doing that this time of year."

The Blues are in a virtual must-win situation Wednesday. A loss puts their season in serious peril.

"We came here to win a game, we've got to get ready for the next game," Hitchcock said.

"Huge game here in a couple days," Allen said. "We've got to regroup quickly."

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