For a long time now, we’ve championed the cause for Nino Niederrieter. We’ve said that his underlying numbers were excellent, he just needs more minutes. “Put him on the first line!” we said. Former Wild coach Mike Yeo was more focused on the meaningless plus/minus stat as a way to say Niederreiter’s defense was bad. Against the Blues, the Chur, Switzerland native and former 3rd overall pick by the Islanders, with his former coach, who relegated him to the doghouse constantly, on the visiting bench, net a goal and two assists for a three point night. Number 22 led the way as the Wild heads into the All-Star break with 69 (Nice) points as they stared down at the rest of the Western Conference standings.
The first period would finish in s scoreless tie, as both teams traded chances. The Blues finished with a 10-8 shot margin, but had the benefit of two power plays, and Minnesota really getting their only scoring chances off the rush. Blues starting goaltender Carter Hutton, coming off a shutout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in his last outing, looked solid in the first as the Wild tried to crash the net.
Wild All-Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk was on his game early. He was finding the long range shots through bodies and looked like the goaltender that surprised the rest of the league with the best save percentage and goals against average. Minnesota was able to get behind the Blues’ defensemen early and create odd-man chances. For Dubnyk, he had just a couple in the game and was equal to all but one shot.
It didn’t take long for the goal scoring to start in the second frame. The Wild forward line of Zach Parise - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville were on the ice to start the period and quickly suffocated Blues defenseman Colton Parayko into a corner where Jason Pominville stepped up and engaged him along the wall. Pominville won the battle and forwared the puck to Parise as they crossed the line on a 2-on-1 break. Parise stopped and dragged the puck past a sliding Blues defender and fed Erik Haula for the first of the game. That would be Haula’s 10th of the season, and the fourth goal in six games for the former Gopher.
The defensive pairing of Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba has been an adventure, to put it lightly. Jaden Schwartz head-manned a pass to All-Star forward Valdimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko split the half asleep Wild defensemen and scored five-hole on Dubnyk. How you lose Tarasenko on the ice like that is beyond me.
Dubnyk would have to good when the same kind of play caught Nate Prosser losing his man, Scottie Upshall, for a break. Dubnyk would stop the play and keep the game tied at one.
The period would slog along. Seemed like the game really slowed down from that point as both teams tried to keep things in front of them. Then at the 12:19 mark, Niederreiter would drive the net with a power move. He’d lose the puck in front of Hutton, but would stay with it. A hard centering pass would deflect of Tyler Graovac’s skate and in. Ninoe made that play happen, and Graovac just reaped the reward of being in the right place, right time.
The officiating wasn’t terribly great. There were a number of non-calls both ways, but one glaring one when Jason Zucker took a cross check in the Blues crease after making a move to the net preceded Tarasenko’s goal. Parise had a cut on his upper lip after taking a mitten to the mug. It just seemed like the officials were missing sometimes blatant penalties. Mikael Granlund would finally draw a penalty when he was hooked by Jay Bouwmeester. The first power play of the game in the first period looked really good and seemed on the brink of scoring....until it was negated by a Parise trip. Minnesota got a second chance on the power play and with some good puck movement and a couple blocked shots, and some missed nets, Niederreiter would chase down Robert Bortuzzo and lift the stick to force a turnover. Minnesota got lucky that it wasn’t called hooking as Bortuzzo could have had a compelling case. Mikko Koivu scooped up the puck and fed Granlund in front of the net. Hutton made the intial save on Granlund, but Koivu followed up the play and chipped the puck into the net with just 12 seconds remaining in the period.
Minnesota jumped out to a 18-7 shot advantage in the period, and two period total of 26-17.
With the two goal lead, and Minnesota’s recent knack for giving those up, most were hoping the Wild just play within themselves and not get too loose to give up yet another lead. Niederreiter would corral a puck on the left wing and fire a puck from the outer edge of the left faceoff circle and beat Hutton for a 4-1 lead. Forty-two seconds later, the en fuego pair of Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund would connect to make it 5-1. Zucker had gotten a couple partial breakaways where he’d circle around the net. Each time, Hutton would follow him around. This time, Zucker had a passing lane to center the puck to Granlund. Granlund wouldn’t miss.
That would be it for Carter Hutton for the night. Jake Allen would enter the game for the Blues as not only did the Blues high feeling about themselves, and Hutton’s shutout streak would come to down from those heights with a thud.
Minnesota would go along to allow just 8 more shots in the period as Dubnyk shut the door the rest of the way. Hopefully, the head that currently wears the Western Conference crown won’t get too heavy after the All-Star break.