The Minnesota Wild have eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games after defeating them 4-1 at Xcel Energy Center. Zach Parise did his best Kirby Puckett impersonation by placing his team on his back and carried them to victory with two goals. The X was packed to the brim with 19,318 screaming fans who were loud from the get-go. It was the first time the Wild have ever clinched a series at home and before seven games.
The Wild returned to its Game 3 form when it was efficient in its own zone to start the game. The Blues didn't get their first shots on goal until 8:15 of the first when David Backes got a weak shot on Dubnyk. The Wild had a failed power play less than four minutes into the game, getting only one shot on goal for the two minutes man advantage. Minnesota went short-handed after Justin Fontaine was called for a tripping minor. The Wild had fantastic penalty by not giving the Blues any real chance to set up in the Wild zone.
Zach Parise intercepted the puck at the blue line and streaked down the left wing side. Keven Shattenkirk had a great angle on him and attempted to rub Parise out of the play. But Parise fought through the check and took a shot from the goal line that sneaked through Jake Allen. It was a soft goal at best, but the shot-handed goal put the Wild on top 1-0 early in the first period. Minnesota out-shot the Blues 10-4 for the period as they continued to apply pressure.
The Blues swung the momentum to their favor in the second. St. Louis peppered Devan Dubnyk, but he was equal to the task every single time. He wasn't forced to make any circus-style saves, but he did need to be quick with the glove and fight through screens to be solid. Justin Fontaine received a Marco Scandella pass as he entered the Blues' zone. He got off a soft shot because of a stick check at the last minute, but the change in speed fooled Allen as it slipped through his five hole for the second goal of the game. Fontaine's goal ended up chasing Jake Allen from the net and in relief entered Brian Elliott for his first action of the post-season.
If there was one player that seemed invisible all series long, it was T.J. Oshie. He just was not that impact player for the Blues that they had expected. With two second remaining in the period, Oshie finally broke through after banking a shot off of Dubnyk. The Blues cut the lead in half in the worst possible time of the period. The ol's saying goes, "while you don't want to give up a goal ever, you can't give one up in the first minute of the period or the last minute of the period." Fans were nervous that the Wild always like to make it interesting.
Those nerves didn't last long into the third period when Parise scored his second of the game. It was a 3-on-2 line rush with Jason Pominville on the right wing with the puck, Parise in the center lane driving the net, and Mikael Granlund on the weak side on the left wing. Pominville's shot was saved by Elliott, but the rebound sat in the crease when Parise pounced on it to re-gain the two-goal lead. Minnesota then put the clamps on when they forced the Blues to come the whole length of the ice and were good in their own end. Ken Hitchcock pulled the goalie with 3:07 left in the game. Nino Niederreiter got the puck at the Wild blue line and shot the puck into the open net to seal the deal.
Minnesota will now take on the Chicago Blackhawks, who took care of the Nashville Predators in six games on Saturday.
For the St. Louis Blues, they have now lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs four years in a row. There are rumors of big changes ahead for the Central Division winners and that may include a change at the head coach position. After trading for Ryan Miller last season at the trade deadline, they chose to ride Brian Elliott and Jake Allen all season to the division crown. However, that goaltending failed them in Games 5 and 6 and is a big factor in them getting eliminated. The other? Vladimir Tarasenko led the league in goals in the playoffs entering Saturday's action, yet he was held to no shots in two games. He is also the goat as his lack of back checking led to Wild goals in the series. The Blues were a solid team when the played hockey and didn't concentrate on the after whistle shenanigans or making the big hit.
The Blues fans that came over to talk hockey were pleasant and were fun to banter with. our sister blog, St. Louis Game Time does great work and for any Blues hockey, including offseason updates, please check them out. They deserve better, but not at the expense of the Wild. It was a fun series, and playoff hockey will continue in Minnesota!