The Wild have done its job well coming into the final five games of the series, playing fairly solid on the road and stealing a win in St. Louis with all three home games still to go. They're in a good spot, to be quite honest, but the Blues can still make things scary if they can take away home ice advantage. That's what makes tonight's game so important. A win in Game Three means, at worst, Minnesota will head to St. Louis like they left it - with a knotted up series.
This Week's Schedule
Monday 7:00 PM vs St. Louis Blues (FS-N, CNBC, SN1, TVA2)
Wednesday 8:30 PM vs St. Louis Blues (FS-N, NBCSN, SN360, TVA3)
Friday @ St. Louis Blues TBD
Key Player of the Week
Minnesota's youngest player has arguably had the biggest impact. At 20-years old, it's a little surprising that rookie defenseman Matt Dumba leads the club in puck possession stats with an 8 SAT (according to NHL.com), which translates to a 61.8 Corsi For percentage and a 60.0 Fenwick For percentage. His defensive partner, Jordan Leopold, is the next closest Wild player with a 4 SAT, a 56.7 Corsi and a 61.9 Fenwick. Dumba has a goal (an absolute bomb), two shots, three shot attempts, a block and five hits while starting 72.7 percent of draws in the defensive zone and averaging 15:06 of ice-time per game.
What does this mean? It means Minnesota finally has a third pairing worth its salt, and the team and defensive corps as a whole can only benefit from it.
Key Opponent of the Week
Vladimir Tarasenko was the man to shutdown last week, and we saw why - he's pretty darn good. This week, the Wild have to make life difficult for Kevin Shattenkirk. In two games, the Blues' top defenseman has four assists, a plus-1 rating, four shots on goal, eight shot attempts, two blocks, a hit, a giveaway and an average of 18:43 of ice-time per game. His puck possession numbers have been top-10 worthy this postseason with a 20 SAT, a 65.6 Corsi and 67.4 Fenwick.
The name of the game is physicality. In Game Two, Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott and others went to town on Minnesota's skaters, which really wasn't a big surprise. While the Wild can't get caught up in matching St. Louis' physicality tic for tac, it's time Chris Stewart, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Sean Bergenheim and others start laying the boom on key puck movers like Shattenkirk when the opportunity presents itself. Obviously, it's not prudent to go out of the way and take yourself out of position to lay a hit, but something has to be done to take the Blues' top two-way players off their game. The logical thing would be to force St. Louis to try to keep up with Minnesota's speed game, which should render most of the Notes' big boys useless. But grit still has a role to play when used properly.
This two-game home stand is huge. Will the electrifying atmosphere of Xcel Energy Center truly prove to be an advantage as advertized all season long? We'll find out tonight.