Minnesota takes St. Louis out of its element, grab Game 1
ST. LOUIS -- The second season started for the Blues and Minnesota Wild on Thursday. Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series went according to script.
Not for the Blues.
The Wild did what it does best: utilize its speed, keep the Blues from playing their physical forecheck game, clog the middle of the ice and force the Blues to play on the perimeter.
It all resulted in a 4-2 Minnesota victory Thursday before 19,671 at Scottrade Center.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues captain David Backes (left) gets wrapped up by Wild defenseman
Jonas Brodin during Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round.
The Wild, which leads the best-of-7 series 1-0, will have a chance to take command of the series Saturday with a win in Game 2, which is slated for 2 p.m.
The Blues, limited to 21 shots on goal, were their own worst enemy. Players hesitated to shoot pucks, and when they were taken, shots were blocked -- the Wild had 19, including 12 in the first period -- and the layers of funneling pucks at Devan Dubnyk, who was making his first playoff start -- as was the Blues' Jake Allen -- were non-existent.
"I think there was traffic. We didn't get the shots," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They boxed out; they did a really good job in the first and third period boxing us out. We had a lot of zone time the first period. They did a better job clogging up the middle; they gave us the top of the zone and challenged us to get pucks through and we didn't get them through."
The Wild got a goal and an assist from Jason Pominville, two assists from Zach Parise and goals from Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba and Mikael Granlund. Dubnyk made 19 saves.
The Blues, who were shut out for the first 40 minutes, got third-period goals from Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen. Kevin Shattenkirk had two assists and Allen made 25 saves.
Despite a first period in which the Blues had a sizeable territorial advantage but fell behind 1-0 on Zucker's wraparound goal 2:47 into the game.
Zucker scored when Allen kicked out Zucker's initial shot from a sharp angle in the left circle. The puck came back to the Wild forward, who had a quick burst of speed and scored on a quick wraparound to give Minnesota a lead.
"That guy's a speed demon there," Allen said of Zucker. "Good play by him. Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him."
The Wild finished with 19 blocks in the game, 12 in the first.
Minnesota increased its lead to 2-0 when Dumba scored on a slap shot 4:10 into the second period.
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman had a chance to clear the puck but had his attempt blocked in the St. Louis zone. The Wild kept it in, and Dumba took a pass from Jared Spurgeon and beat Allen high glove side.
"They outplayed us in the second period," Hitchcock said. "We outplayed them in the first and for a portion of the third, but they outplayed us in the second. They were quicker on pucks, they were faster in the zone. We took a couple penalties that gave them some momentum, gave them a chance to rest. We didn't build on the good first period.
"... I don't know about killer instinct, but we have not played well off of layoffs all year (1-7-1 with three-plus days off). This is probably another example of that. But we've had another game under our belt; we're going to have to play better. Killer instinct comes in a number of fashions. One of the fashions is you really have to simplify your game in the playoffs. I thought when we didn't get the shots through at the start, we started to play a very complicated game that made us at times look slow. We were into make the next play instead of play it off the goalie."
The Wild dominated the second period, outshooting the Blues 14-4.
"Any time you're taking that many penalties, certainly they're going to feed off of that," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Usually we use those penalty kills as momentum-changers for us and we're killing them off. We didn't change the tide as quickly as we wanted to."
"I think cleaner through the neutral zone coming out of our zone, just come through the neutral zone with a little bit more speed than we had tonight, obviously being a little crisper when we have our chances," Steen said. "Little more killer instinct when we have our chances. Start burying some of these. I thought 'Jakey' was really good in our net tonight."
Schwartz cut the Wild lead in half when he redirected Shattenkirk's wrist shot from the blue line at 7:12 of the third period. Schwartz was parked in front of Dubnyk for the tip.
Shattenkirk got the puck and wasted little time in throwing it towards Dubnyk for one of the rare times the Blues executed shooting and getting traffic.
"I think it's a conscious effort by us to go set up shop in front of their net," Blues captain David Backes said. "We finally did. 'Schwartzy' gets a nice tip and scores a goal there from getting there. That's what we need to do. We can't do it again until Saturday, but one game's in the books. They get a 1-0 lead. Now's the time for us to make a few adjustments and find a way to win the next one."
The Blues kept pressing but could not get the equalizer. Granlund's empty-net goal with 1:13 remaining restored the Wild's two-goal lead.
Steen scored a shorthanded goal with 58.7 remaining to again make it a one-goal game, but Pominville scored the Wild's second empty-net goal with 20 seconds remaining.
"You get down one at home and you hope to pick it up a notch and that'd be a wakeup call," Backes said. "It almost took until the third period until we finally got our legs going and played our brand of hockey. We had great chances and created o-zone time, looked more like our game and we needed that for a full 60 in order to win games against this team and another chance on Saturday."
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
The Blues' Paul Stastny (26) looks to maneuver past Minnesota's Jared
Spurgeon during the Wild's 4-2 victory Thursday at Scottrade Center.
"I thought we had a lot of good spurts," Pietrangelo said. "We started pretty well. We had a lot of pressure early on. Took some penalties there in the second seemed to change the momentum there in that period. We had them on their heels. Just got to find more ways to get pucks towards the net and get more traffic."
Allen, who will get the start in Game 2 after Hitchcock called his game "great," said it was good for him.
"I felt good. I felt pretty well out there," said Allen, who allowed two goals or fewer in eight straight starts. "I was seeing the puck well, just felt pretty confident.
"We just didn't play a 60-minute game. We played well in spurts, but we need to play a complete game. They gave us a good game tonight and they came out on top. They did some little things that put them ahead. We pushed there the last 10 minutes of the third pretty hard, but if we can do that in the first two, I think we'll have a lot more success."
* NOTES -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took in the game Thursday night and addressed the media regarding a number of issues.
Among them was the ever-going question regarding St. Louis as a potential destination for an outdoor game.
"I think at some point we should be here with an outdoor game," Bettman said. "I'm not prepared to make a formal announcement or a prediction as to the date. It would make sense. This is a great sports town and it's a great town for Blues hockey. At some point when the timing is right and we can work it all out, we should probably bring an outdoor game too."
Thanks to the ownership group led by Tom Stillman, those plans are in motion.
"There have been lots of different ownership groups here over the years," Bettman said. "This ownership group has been terrific. Tom and his partners, they're local, they're committed, they have strength. The franchise is as stable as it's ever been and it's performing very well both on and off the ice."