It is impossible to confront being down 3-0 in a 7-game series with hope.
Not only are you dealing with the dejection that comes with 3 straight losses, there’s also a track record to consider. 182 NHL playoff series have started with one team taking a 3-0 lead. Just 4 teams have overcome those odds.
I get it. You just witnessed the Minnesota Wild going down 0-3 to the St. Louis Blues on Easter. You’re perfectly justified in seeing that 2.2% and thinking, “Maybe I’ll sit Wednesday out.” After all, this series is over.
Ehhhh... maybe not.
Updated first round probabilities pic.twitter.com/UsoUhg1TBZ— dom nashville (@domluszczyszyn) April 17, 2017
Dom’s model is weirdly optimistic about the Wild’s chances of taking 4 straight against the St. Louis. 11% is 5 times as much as the 2.2% of teams that have actually done it. And the model doesn’t seem to be overly kind to other teams in 3-0 holes- Columbus’ odds of knocking out the Penguins are just 5%.
The State of Hockey is engaging in an autopsy of the Minnesota Wild right now, looking for any explanation for this disaster of a series. Can this veteran core accomplish anything in the playoffs? Did Jake Allen get in their heads? Are the Wild losing because they still lack that coveted superstar? Did Mike Yeo out-coach Bruce Boudreau? Did the Martin Hanzal trade ruin the Wild’s chemistry?
But while all of Minnesota is dissecting this from every angle, there’s an all-but-forgotten fact at play: The Wild could still win this. The 11% chance Dom’s model gives them makes a lot of sense, when you think about it.
Until Minnesota makes a series of this, the story in this match-up is going to be Jake Allen. Allen has a .974 save percentage in these last 3 games. At 5-on-5 play, Allen has stopped an absurd 93 of 94 shots against him (.989!!!). What he’s done is outstanding.
And it’s been extremely necessary for St. Louis. Because even though the Blues have gotten the better of the Wild in terms of the final scores, Minnesota has been by far the superior team this series.
The Wild have been nothing short of dominant. Minnesota has crushed St. Louis in Corsi, out-attempting the Blues 176-102 at 5-on-5. That 63.3% Corsi For mark is the best of any playoff team by far (Montreal’s second at 56%). And it isn’t skewed due to one game, either. The “worst” outing Minnesota had was in Game 2, where they still controlled 58% of the shot attempts.
Nor is this skewed by one line. Only in Game 2 did the Wild have a player that finished with a negative Corsi. And even then, it was just one (Zach Parise). Everyone else has finished at 50% or higher in every game of the series.
“Sure,” you may say. “But don’t the Blues want to let the Wild take a bunch of shots?” And yes, that’s kinda true. Yeo has his team running similarly to how the Wild were earlier this season. In both instances, the aim was to cede the perimeter in order to protect the middle. The idea is you give up more shots, but they come from less dangerous areas.
But that’s not really what St. Louis is accomplishing. Despite what the talking heads have said throughout the series, Minnesota has done a very good job of getting in Allen’s face. You can see it in the heat maps for Games 1, 2, and 3. Look at the hottest spots on them. They’re right in Allen’s crease. Even though Minnesota’s taken shots on the perimeter, too, the Wild are getting closer to the net than anyone in the playoffs.
Avg distance of shots against— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 16, 2017
In case it wasn't clear, Andersen's been working pretty hard. pic.twitter.com/lPmgCfr344
So what can we take away from this?
The overarching narrative of this series is that the Wild can’t figure out away to get through the Blues’ defenses. That Yeo has out-coached Boudreau, leaving the Wild’s offense stymied and unable to beat Allen.
Very little of that is actually true. Yes, the Wild haven’t solved Allen, who is being the textbook Hot Goalie in the Playoffs™ right now. But little of this has to do with Yeo or his defensive system. Other than managing to slow down the Wild’s attack a bit in Game 2 on Friday, Minnesota’s been more or less able to do whatever they want with the puck.
They’re getting past the Blues’ defenders. They’re firing from close to the net. They’re taking a ton of shots, and they’re doing a better job than St. Louis at protecting their net, as well.
In short, Yeo’s only answer to the Wild’s offense is Allen. And Allen has needed every bit of that .974 save percentage to keep his team afloat. Each game has been decided by basically one goal.
What happens when Allen can’t stop 97% of the pucks he sees anymore? Even a slight drop-off in play means the Blues will be in hot water, given the fact that Minnesota isn’t giving them many looks at Dubnyk.
And if that happens, you could easily see Minnesota’s talent taking over, opening them up to a series comeback.
Do I believe the Wild will pull off this upset (albeit, an upset to avoid an upset)? No, not really. Minnesota’s margin for error is so thin, and Allen is clearly capable of slamming the door on the Wild’s Cup dreams. Especially with 4 cracks at it.
But as Boudreau mentioned after yesterday’s loss, it’s all Game 7s for the Wild from here on out. And anything can happen in Game 7s.
Anything. Even a Boudreau team coming out on top.
Huge props to Natural Stat Trick for compiling much of the data used in this article.