Saturday, April 22, 2017

Blues finish off Wild with 4-3 win in OT of Game 5

Paajarvi goal sends St. Louis into second round against Nashville

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The range of emotions in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series between the Blues and Minnesota Wild would have been fit for the Screamin' Eagle at Six Flags Mid-America.

A roller coaster ride ensued, with one team (the Blues) in search of the knockout punch and the other (the Wild) trying to stay alive and extend the series to a sixth game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (left) beats Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk
in overtime to give the Blues a 4-3 win in Game 5.

And each time the Blues punched, the Wild counter-punched, but another unlikely hero sent the Blues onto the second round when Magnus Paajarvi scored 9 minutes, 42 seconds into overtime to give the Blues a 4-3 win and take the series 4-1 on Saturday afternoon in front of 19,228 at Xcel Energy Center.

Paajarvi took a pass from Vladimir Sobotka in the slot and went bar down on Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk to clinch the series for the Blues and send them into the second round against the Nashville Predators, who swept the Chicago Blackhawks.

"You don't get a whole lot of chances in OT," Paajarvi said of his first playoff goal. "Sobotka and Lehtera really worked a good chance out for me and that was nice to see it go in.

"... It's such a good play, Sobotka's patience with the puck. He's stronger than you think with the puck. My guy kind of went to him and he saw that and gave it to me. Super thrilled."

The play started after Dubnyk played the puck around the boards and was slowed up by Jori Lehtera before it was intercepted by Sobotka, who protected the puck and curled around Martin Hanzal. Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon peeled off Paajarvi to respect Sobotka with the puck, but Sobotka spotted Paajarvi open.

"I just tried to hold onto it," Sobotka said. "We kind of opened up. No one was checking me and I seen Magnus there open. I just tried to put it on his stick and he scored a great goal."

Sobotka said he was shocked nobody checked him off the puck.

"Yeah, I was surprised," he said. "I just tried to hold onto it. Magnus was there open too.

"I was surprised nobody checked me, like I said. Space opened up. I seen the play there 2-on-1 and I just tried to put it on his stick. Good play."

How ironic that two guys that weren't even on the opening night roster combine to send the Blues into the second round.

"'Sobe,' we knew he was going to be a big acquisition for us and obviously he's factored in offensively, he's factored in on the penalty kill and a role player for us," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, who got revenge on the team that fired him from his first head coaching job on Feb. 14, 2016. "I think 'Maggy's a great story. A guy that has to go down to the minors and the coaches did a great job with him there. He showed an awful lot of character for him to really define his game and so he's been a real reliable player for us. He's come through for us offensively in big times, too."

It was a game in which Paul Stastny returned after missing 14 games with a broken foot and scored a big goal, Lehtera returned after missing Games 2-4 and added two assists and Jake Allen was once again solid with 34 saves.

From someone looking at it in black and white might think the Blues won this series with ease, but it was anything but.

"Really happy to finish it tonight," Yeo, who spent five seasons as Wild coach, said. "That's a group that definitely ... I know it's tough they didn't get the win, but they gave us more than anything we could handle and obviously Bruce (Boudreau) has done a great job, Chuck has done a great job and their team did a great job. They showed a lot of character."

Boudreau was not as kind-hearted towards the Blues.

"Well, they weren’t the better team, but they won four games," Boudreau, who is 42-43 career in the playoffs, said.

The Blues came out on fire, and had all the jump early with an 8-1 shots edge in the early going; they came out with the flair they needed.

Vladimir Tarasenko put the Blues ahead 1-0, his first goal of the series and just fourth in the past 14 playoff games with a move to the net off the corner boards, puck caroms off Jonas Brodin back to Tarasenko, who beats Dubnyk low far side from in tight at 7:16 of the period to make it 1-0.

The Blues continued to pour on the pressure and Colton Parayko picked off a pass along the right boards after Lehtera was just annihilated by Marco Scandella pressuring the offensive zone, and Parayko was able to get to the middle of the ice and feed Alexander Steen, who beat Dubnyk high short side at 10:31 for a 2-0 lead.

But Minnesota came on with their push, and Suter's power play goal at 18:31 cut the lead in half after a bad Scottie Upshall cross-check penalty that led to the man-advantage.

Upshall cross-checked Nate Prosser in the face near the Wild bench and it cost the Blues after Patrik Berglund wasn't able to get a clear along the boards, and Suter's slapper caromed off Vladimir Sobotka's stick. 

"You've got to stay out of the box," Upshall said. "I would have taken a good shot if I had not gotten my stick up. It was more of a reactionary, brace yourself, a play that happens a lot, but when you get a guy's head, you'll go to the box. It was a tough one to swallow but our team held it together."

The Wild gained momentum off the end of the first and outshot the Blues 15-7 in the second, but Allen came up with some impressive saves, including one on Jason Zucker breaking past Robert Bortuzzo and in alone.

"It's playoff hockey," said Allen, who finished the series stopping 174 of 182 shots with a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage. "Ups and downs to the game for both sides. It was a battle, it was a grind and we got it done."

There was a scary moment in the game when Wild center Eric Staal crashed hard into the back boards behind Allen after splitting Blues defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Parayko on a 4-on-4 play. Staal clipped Allen's skate and went head-first into the boards. After being down for several minutes, he was helped off the ice and went to the hospital for further observation.

Stastny, who said he knew after practice on Friday that he would play, made an immediate impact and put the Blues up 3-1 on a jam play at the side of the net, whacking at the puck twice and going upstairs on Dubnyk at 7:23 of the third.

Lehtera had just come out of the penalty box and was able to get Stastny the puck.

"Me and Jori almost lost the puck there at the blue line," Stastny said. "It was a little behind me, so I was just trying to jam it in and it came back to me. I think if 'Schwartzy's not there (Jaden Schwartz), that goal never happens. A lot of our goals today, if we don't have net presence, it doesn't bring that 'D' there and makes kind of a logjam. You just take it to the net and you're trying to create havoc. It comes back to you, so you just try to put it top shelf. I think a play like that to me, it's more the guy away from the puck that's kind of creating the logjam and makes the goalie kind of back up in his net."

Minnesota thought it had made it 3-2 on a Martin Hanzal goal but was called back for goalie interference. The Wild challenged and the call was upheld by the officials with 11:17 remaining.

"They just said it was goalie interference," Boudreau said. "I'd certainly like an explanation because like Scott (Stevens) said in the room, he said, 'You know, we're going to start teaching our defensemen to instead of box out, box in because they call that goalie interference all the time and it's not.' What are you going to do?"

It didn't matter.

The Wild continued to push, the Blues took penalties and Minnesota took advantage. 

Koivu made it 3-2 at 10:38 by batting in a puck at the side of the net moments after defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was called for holding, and then Zucker tied it 3-3 with 5:01 remaining after getting past Alex Pietrangelo along the left wall, waiting out Allen and sliding it past the Blues' goalie into the empty side.

"When you're up 3-1, the third period we just sat back, a couple penalties and they were just shooting everything," Stastny said. "That's what happens and I think last game, we're down 1-0, we were being outshot 11-2 and all of the sudden, we outshot them. 

"A two-goal lead is the worst, but I think with experience, we've got to play a little better. I think we can't have four guys playing one way and one guy playing nervous. All five of us gotta go out there and play good defensively and try to score offensively. Once we got that third one, we sat back a little bit. We weren't really trying to get that next one. We were almost kind of sitting on our heels and trying to block everything. That's going to get you in trouble."

"They obviously have a big push," Bouwmeester said. "We take a couple penalties. Well, I took a couple penalties. I don't agree with either of them. But I know that ref. We have a bit of a history. So. Whatever."

The Blues had a push at the end when David Perron had a few chances along with Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen at the buzzer but couldn't get a fourth past Dubnyk.

But once it got to overtime and became next goal wins, the Blues seemed to feel a little more confident after the Wild had the initial push.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players rush to celebrate with Magnus Paajarvi, who scored the OT
game-winner Saturday against the Minnesota Wild in Game 5.

"Keep it going," Paajarvi said of the locker room mood. "We felt good 5-on-5. We took a couple minors that hurt us, but that happens. You can't really control the refs sometimes, but we felt good 5-on-5 so we said, 'Let's go get it. We were right there. We can clinch it.' We have a lot of older players that really stepped it up in the locker room here and really got us on the same page. Right focus."

And Paajarvi's focus was the final nail.

"I think 'Sobe' kind of made a nice play dipping that shoulder and he sold everyone," said Stastny, who won 13 of 27 faceoffs and played 22:42 in his return. "'Mags' didn't want to mess with it, so he just put it top shelf."

And put the Blues into the second round.

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