Saturday, May 7, 2022

Instead of sizzle, Blues fizzle in 5-1 loss in Game 3 against Wild

Minnesota leads best-of-7 series after jumping out to quick two-goal lead; 
depleted St. Louis defense gets no help from underachieving forwards

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues put out a hype video, filled with a laser light show, to get the 18,096 more than amped up.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues goalie Ville Husso (right) makes a save on the breakaway by Wild
forward Kirill Kaprizov in the first period of Game 3.

Lights were flashing, the video got the crowd more lively than usual, then the Blues hit the ice to what was supposed to be the rollout to their pivotal Game 3 opening against the Minnesota Wild.

But instead feeding off the emotion of their loyal fans, the Blues flickered like a futile Bick lighter.

They fell behind by two goals before they knew what hit them, then they tried hitting their way back into the game before succumbing 5-1 to fall behind the best-of-7 first-round series 2-1.

The Blues, who lost 6-2 in Game 2 but actually played pretty good despite some bad breaks/bounces, were pitiful from the outset.

They actually began the game with a shift in the Minnesota zone, pitting their line with Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron and Brandon Saad against the Wild's shutdown line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. They had what they wanted, which was the zone time, but eventually, lost the puck along the wall (a common theme among forwards in this game), Colton Parayko got caught on a late pinch, and it resulted in a 2-on-1 that Greenway scored off a one-timer just 39 seconds into the game for a 1-0 Minnesota lead and bursting the bubble of the sellout crowd.

And if that didn't stun the home side and its fans, then the Kirill Kaprizov goal at 2:19 did that made it 2-0.

It came off an offensive zone giveaway by Ivan Barbahsev that led to a breakaway, one in which Ville Husso got a piece of Kaprozov's initial shot, but the WIld Russian alertly got behind the net and threw the puck back into the crease off Husso's skate and into the net.
If for any reason someone wasn't settled into their seat yet, which was highly unlikely, then they missed out on the range of emotions of jubilation to stunned silence.

"Yeah, absolutely, I think it was definitely deflating for us, but we’re a veteran team and we should’ve responded better," said Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly, who scored the lone goal on the power play. "Bounces are going to happen. We came out with great energy, feeding off the building, and I thought we did some great things well, but maybe got too excited offensively. We’ve got to be responsible and then build our game from there. Obviously we were down two early, and yeah, we need to respond quicker. We just kind of got a little frustrated and it kind of just took the wind out of our sails. It was, yeah, too tough to generate anything to kind of get the momentum back. Yeah, it was just difficult."

It was the exact opposite of what the Blues were looking for and needing, and just like Game 2, now they're chasing the game, and it didn't get any better.

The Blues came into the game depleted on defense, playing without injured Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo but they did get Marco Scandella back after the veteran missed three games with a lower-body injury.

But the Blues came into the game having to play Niko Mikkola heavy minutes and Calle Rosen for a second straight game, and to make matters worse, the defense got more fragile when they lost Torey Krug to an apparent left leg injury with 9:03 left in the opening period after a failed check.

"It's tough, it's tough on the D, it's tough on the team," Blues coach Craig Berube said. 'We lose our quarterback power play guy and it's what it is."

And instead of playing the game and working their way back, the Blues turned into gangbusters and tried to hit their way back into the game. They finished with 33 hits, but 21 of them were in the first period, and 

"I think obviously we got pretty excited being back and home, with the crowd," Blues center Tyler Bozak said. "And maybe sometimes we hit when we didn’t need to, or went out of our way to make a hit. We've got to be careful with that, running around too much, and just be poised and we’ll be ready for next game."

"Yeah I thought that after we went down 2-0, we were trying for home runs a little too much and lost our composure a little bit instead of just sticking with the game," Berube said. "A lot of game left to play. And the third and fourth goal there, their goals that (they got), we shouldn't have allowed to happen."

But as much as the Blues were going to have to a tough time missing two of their top six defensemen, the forward group was in tact, and they were pitiful at best.

Their passes were nowhere near sharp. Skaters were fumbling pucks, and let's not blame the ice, because two teams were playing on it and the Wild didn't have those issues. If players weren't fumbling pucks, they were off target, and when there were one-and-dones after skaters were doing fly-by's the net instead of parking in front of Marc-Andre Fleury's penchant for leaving juicy rebounds, the backcheck on a vulnerable and depleted defense was sorely lacking.

Aside from Kaprizov's early breakaway, Greenway also had one against a loose and shoddy defensive game plan from the forwards to the blue liners.

"Our forwards didn't reload hard enough on a couple plays and then D got caught watching on a couple plays," Berube said. "It can't happen. We had the right intentions to start the game, but you've got to be detailed.

"(The first goal) was a solid shift and our D is caught in there. Either he's got to ... he's kind of caught in between and be a little more aggressive, don't allow that play to happen, but we've got no forward to back them up. And then we've got to play the 2-on-1 better.

"You've got to help each other out, and like I said, our forwards are going to have to dig in and do a lot more than they're doing."

Well, they're not doing a ton this series thus far. The 5-on-5 offense is all but moot at this point. The Blues have scored seven goals in three games, of which three game come at even strength, and one came two seconds after the conclusion of a power play.

"Well, there's different circumstances I think in all three games, but tonight, I thought we had some real good looks around the net," Berube said. "We were at the net. We're not getting any bounces there right now in my opinion, but we've got to do a better job of making some plays on the rush. I don't think that we're making enough plays on the rush. It seems like we're a little bit stagnant there. We've been a real good rush team all year and making plays on the rush and scoring goals, but the d-corps is beat up right now. We don't have the best puck movers right now, but we can't look at that as an excuse. We've got to find a way to figure that our, we've got to find a way to do it."

Being at home, the Blues have the last change, and they finally got the Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko line away from Minnesota's line dubbed the 'Greef' line.
It didn't matter.

"Yeah, we need them to do more for sure, 100 percent," Berube said. "They're better than that.

"They're getting checked pretty hard I think. There's not a lot of room out there. You've got to battle through checking. That's part of it all. They've got to be stronger 1-on-1. They really do. That's the bottom line."

But it's not just Buchnevich, Thomas and Tarasenko. This is a unit that had nine 20-goal scorers that simply isn't producing.

"I wish I could pinpoint it," O'Reilly said. "I don’t know exactly. You know, the goals come with the details and the other things, from our forecheck and having good o-zone time. Right now we’re just kind of, or tonight, we weren’t our best. We weren’t possessing the puck like we normally do, and when that happens, it’s tough to score goals. There’s no panic though. We’re going to reset and get back at them next game."

The fumbling of pucks was perplexing. One sequence, when Thomas flipped a pass that Buchnevich fumbled and kicked right to a Wild defenseman that turned back around for an odd-man rush, led to a goal by Mats Zuccarello for a 3-0 lead.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Brayden Schenn (10) looks to move the puck while being
defended by the Wild's Alex Goligoski on Friday.  

"It wasn't very clean tonight for sure," Berube said. "I didn't think our puck play was very clean tonight, bouncing or just not clean passes. Going into Game 4, it's 2-1, we're at home. 
"Listen, you've got to go out with a mindset that we can't give up 2-on-1's early in the game and things like that. We've got to be better there and you've got to be a little more patient, and I think we're forcing things a lot of times when we don't need to."

The Blues are going to have to find some things that they can make work or else this series will be done on Tuesday.

"It’s a best-of-7 series," Bozak said. "We’re going to be home again in the next one and we've got to win it. We’ll go in tomorrow, we’ll watch some video, we’ll get better. We’ll refocus and adjust and we’ll come out ready to go in Game 4."

"We'll go on the ice tomorrow, we'll work on a few things and we'll work on some power play and things like that, we'll get the guys regrouped and you go play," Berube said. "It is what it is with the d-corps. They're banged up back there, but we've got to be simple back there, we've got to move the puck as quickly as we can and our forwards have to do a lot more than they're doing right now. That's the bottom line. They're not doing enough."

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