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With a sound structure in place, the Wild takes on Mike Yeo’s desperate St. Louis Blues

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Minnesota has been playing its best defense of the season lately, and it hopes to keep that style down the stretch.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNESOTA WILD VS ST LOUIS BLUES

7:00 PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota

TV: Fox Sports-North, Fox Sports-Wisconsin

Streaming: Fox Sports Go app

Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates

Oh hey! The Wild can play defense too! Bruce Boudreau dug deep into his bag of tricks and pulled out a defensively structured team, which has given up a total of two goals in its past two games. The team has run into a couple of solid goaltending performances from Martin Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky, which has limited Minnesota to just three goals for (including an empty netter) and weirdly only one win, but in the grand scheme of things, this is an extremely sustainable brand of hockey for the Wild to suddenly be displaying.

It’s refreshing to see that this year’s version of the Wild can get a lead heading into the third period, and instead of sitting back and praying that Devan Dubnyk can hold on until the final horn sounds, it’s willing to keep its foot on the gas and continue to attack. The feel of a lead is so different than in years past, and the Wild’s last game against San Jose was a prime example of how it can close out games, now that it is one of the elite clubs in the NHL. Against one of the few teams in the Western Conference that could really give the Wild a run for its money as we head down the stretch, the Wild made a statement by attacking the Sharks into submission in the final frame, completely dominating play and eliminating any doubt as to who was the better team in the game.

The story after that matchup was how well the Wild defended in the third, despite playing with five blueliners, a result of Christian Folin’s early exit due to injury. In reality, the Wild really didn’t have to defend much at all, because it controlled the puck and kept the Sharks pinned in their own zone for a majority of the final twenty minutes. If Minnesota can keep this style for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, it has a chance to go on a very deep run. Time will tell!

Tonight, a desperate St. Louis Blues team comes to town, sans Kevin Shattenkirk, who was traded to Washington at the deadline. Minnesota will need to be on its toes early, but by getting a couple goals in the first period and continuing to press, the Wild will definitely be able to overcome a fragile St. Louis squad.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Let me know if you’ve heard this one before: “This should be a good slap in the face for us. I don’t know. I get the sense that sometimes we just assume, just think, that things are going to turn around for us. In fairness, I think that there were some guys … that their desperation was very noticeable. Then we had some other guys whose desperation level did not match our situation.” Those are the convoluted words of our old pal, Mike Yeo, speaking last week to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and trying to explain away a stretch of bad play from his team. It’s almost eerie how familiar that sounds, isn’t it?

Yeo’s return to an Xcel Energy Center bench happened a few months ago, but at that time, he was participating as Associate Head Coach, hired by St. Louis during the offseason as the “coach-in-waiting” to replace Ken Hitchcock after the long-tenured veteran would eventually retire. Things weren’t going too swimmingly for the club under Hitchcock, though, so the process of elevating Yeo to Head Coach of the Blues was expedited by half a season. Thus, Yeo makes his Xcel Energy Center debut as Head Coach of a team not called the Wild tonight. Now there’s a storyline for you!

The Blues got off to a screaming hot start to the post-Hitchcock era, winning seven out of Yeo’s first eight games at the helm. The wheels quickly came right back off the Blues’ rickety wagon, though, as the team lost the next five games in a row, stretched over three weeks because of St. Louis’s bye. As the team stumbled, we got the above quote from Yeo, as well as many others, that sounded a lot like what we heard over and over during the Great Swoons of yesteryear.

St. Louis did finally break its losing streak on Sunday, however, with a 3-0 win over the Colorado JustWhatTheDoctorOrdereds. As the Blues sit now, their 69 points (nice) are enough for fourth place in the Central Division and the last Wild Card spot. Los Angeles, the team chasing the Blues, is just one point behind St. Louis, but sits idle for the next two days. A perfectly timed win for the Blues tonight would mean a lot to the team’s playoff chances, as it looks to put a bit of a gap between itself and the Kings.

The last time the Wild faced St. Louis, the biggest story for the Blues was their goaltending, or lack thereof. Jake Allen has since rebounded from a slump that was so bad, the team actually left him home from a road trip to get his proverbial s*** together, and he now has not allowed more than three goals since January 31st. The turnaround seemed to come right around the time that he did a full change of his equipment into a very colorful yellow-on-top, blue-on-bottom scheme. Coincidence? I think not.

Allen’s new look is among the best in the league, in my opinion, a nice departure from the boring white pads that the vast majority of the league has been wearing now for the past decade, allegedly because it makes it harder for shooters to see the holes they’re shooting at. I say that’s hogwash, and the recent shift of more goalies going back toward colorful equipment is a welcome one. I can actually tell you from experience that getting even one new piece of equipment (let alone a whole new wardrobe) and having a good game soon after is for some reason a huge confidence builder for a goaltender, so maybe the change really did have something to do with Allen’s turnaround.

The Wild got a big emotional boost in its first game this season against the Ducks, which of course fired Bruce Boudreau at the end of last season, so we’ll see if the Blues get a similar boost tonight, as they try to win one for their own new boss, who experienced a similar fate last year.

STORYLINES

Zach Parise and Jason Pominville returned to the Wild’s lineup on Sunday after a visit to Mumptown, and very quickly connected for a stylish power play goal. The return of the two forwards sent a huge ripple through the lineup, as we got our first glimpse of how this team can look, now that Martin Hanzal and Ryan White are also factored into the equation.

The fact of the matter is, with a full forward lineup, very few (if any) teams in this league can match up effectively now against Minnesota. It officially has four lines with NHL talent, all capable of scoring goals, so opposing teams cannot afford to take a shift off or run a line of players out, even for a few minutes per game, who can’t pull their weight in the defensive zone. Every team that plays Minnesota has it circled on the calendar right now, because the Wild is such a huge test for every one of its opponents.

With the returns of Mumpy and Mumpier, Parise played on the right side of Eric Staal, with prototypical fourth liner Chris Stewart elevated to the line’s other wing. It was an odd mix at first glance, but when you see how the line fits in with the rest of the forward lineup, it’s a pretty formidable trio in reality. Parise plays like a super-skilled fourth liner anyway, and Staal has plenty of straight-forward oomph to his game that complements Parise and Stewart’s styles. In a sense, the line is almost like a fourth line that will get top-six minutes and could potentially score tons of goals. Parise and Staal did combine for the Wild’s three goals on Sunday, though Parise’s came on the power play and Staal’s second of the game was with an empty net. The line will get another chance to build on last game’s success tonight, and hopefully Stewart keeps his hands to himself, at least with regards to swinging at players in green helmets.

INJURIES

The Wild lost Christian Folin for three or more weeks after he slid awkwardly into the end boards at full speed on Sunday. Of course it’s never good to have one of your regular players get injured for an extended period, but with depth at every position, this is a blow that the team can absorb, assuming it doesn’t lose any more players on the back end. We wish Folin a speedy recovery!

Robby Fabbri is out for the year with an ACL injury suffered at the beginning of February. That one’s a huge loss for the Blues, as the young forward was on pace to surpass his impressive rookie numbers from last year, when he scored 18 goals and 19 assists. Another young forward, Dmitrij Jaskin, has missed the last two games, but should be back very soon.

Below are the projected lineups, thanks to dailyfaceoff.com, as well as the Tale of the Tape, thanks to @keisarikine. The Gamethread will post at 6:30PM Central (I swear, it will ACTUALLY post this time), so swing on by! Thanks for reading!

MARCO SCANDELLA // NATE PROSSER