If for one night, it finally felt like a Stanley Cup Playoff game. Yes, the Minnesota Wild scored first and it opened the Blues up which created some very good back and forth between the teams as Devan Dubnyk notched a shut-out for the Wild’s first victory in the series.
Minnesota got the jump on the Blues early when they stormed out to a 6-0 lead in shots on goal before Dubnyk was actually forced to make a save almost 10 minutes into the period. The game plan coming in to Game 4 was to get to Jake Allen and get in his face. Instead, it was some back pressure applied by Eric Staal that forced an errant pass up the boards where Charlie Coyle was waiting. He peeled the puck off the half wall and tucked the puck just inside the far post as Allen struggled to get back into his crease. It was Coyle’s second of the series. The goal would also be Minnesota’s first ever lead in the series, and, let’s just say, it made a difference.
The Blues were now forced to press in the offensive zone. While Minnesota still controlled the shots (only giving up 4 shots on goal) in the first period, you could tell the Wild were finding a bit more room around the net. However, the Blues apparently can play in the offensive zone. In the second period, St. Louis out-shot the Wild 12-10 for the frame. Dubnyk was sharp on a number of saves. Like December Dunbyk sharp. While not the main reason the Wild had dug itself into a 3-0 hole, he surely wasn’t stealing the games for the Wild. He was big, calm, and tracked the puck quite well.
Not tracking the puck quite as well was Jake Allen. Nate Prosser, who had himself a solid game and former Blue (for literally a preseason), sent a puck out to neutral for Jason Pominville. The Wild were able to get long head-man passes because they finally got the Blues to stretch out a bit. Pominville one-touched the puck to Martin Hanzal who broke the St. Louis line and ripped a shot low blocker. It was a shot that maybe fooled Allen because he guessed wrong. Maybe he mis-judged the speed of Hanzal’s release. Either way, the puck eluded Allen and ended up in the back of the net. Much like those had been the type of goals Dubnyk had given up, Minnesota finally were the benefactor of a softer goal.
Minnesota’s power play wasn’t particularly good, especially when they had chances to extend the lead. They got just three shots on Allen in two man-advantages, but those shots hardly challenged a goaltender of Allen’s ilk. Conversely, the Wild’s penalty killing was superb and even included a gigantic kill on Ryan White’s slashing minor early in the third period with Minnesota clinging to 2-0 lead.
Allen made some big saves to keep the game from getting out of hand. He stopped Charlie Coyle when Coyle tipped a puck to himself past Joel Edmundson and attempted to chip a bouncing puck over Allen’s glove. Then, Mikael Granlund swept the puck at the St. Louis line and forced the puck down to a solitary Eric Staal in the slot. Allen got his right toe on the not-very-good shot from Staal.
However, the night belonged to Dubnyk. He stopped all 28 shots he faced. The rebound control was good and the Wild defense was there to sweep away any pucks that did get away from him. Number 40 didn’t looked rattled one bit, looked confident, and tracked the puck well all game long.
Charlie Coyle was amazing all game long. But another player that looked engaged, was amazing on the puck, and created chances was Martin Hanzal. He was strong, won a boatload of faceoffs, and played well in all three zones. He certainly was a difference maker on the ice.
Mikko Koivu was a beast in the faceoff dot, winning 72 percent of the faceoffs, and two blocked shots. Prior to the game, he was named as a Selke Award finalist, and him winning big, clutch faceoffs were enormous for the Wild, especially in the defensive zone.
Now the series switches back to St. Paul. Minnesota couldn’t find a win at home in Games 1 and 2 with a friendly crowd. However, even with the win, Minnesota has a tremendous amount of work ahead of them to officially make this a series. A Game 4 win is cute and all. It’s nice to not be swept, but there’s absolutely no room for error in the next game if they want to continue this post season. The Wild will have to find a way to build off this win, and continue get in front of Allen. The moment the stop doing that is the moment this series is over. He is too good to not bounce back from this loss and put up another valiant effort to steal another game.
For the first time in the series, a game actually felt like a playoff game. It featured a good back and forth, chances for each side, and not just one team relying on superb goaltending to win. And hopefully, this first win will lead to another win where this series will finally feel like a playoff series.
Here are Bruce Boudreau’s comments after the game: