It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but it’s over now. The Minnesota Wild have officially been eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in five games. A feverish comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the third period just falls short as Magnus Paajarvi scores in the first overtime to send the Blues to the second round.
Minnesota already had a mountain to climb being down 3-1 in the series. The first period might as well been a sheer rock cliff. Vladimir Tarasenko finally found the back of the net for the first time in the series. He cut to the front of the net with the puck in his skates. Then the Blues super star kicked the puck to his stick and scored around Devan Dubnyk to take the all-important early lead.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Blues kept the pressure on the Wild. Minnesota just looked downright flat in the first 10 minutes of the period. Alex Steen put the Blues up 2-0 before anyone even realized what was going on. For a team on the rails, for a team that was supposed to be desperate, they lacked any of that “IT” factor. Then things started to change when Scottie Upshall cross checked Nate Prosser right in the jaw right after a big penalty kill by the Wild.
It was mostly a middling power play that meandered and lacked urgency. That was until Charlie Coyle sealed off Patrik Berglund along the wall. The puck was kept in the zone by Jared Spurgeon and moved over to Ryan Suter with a clear lane to the net. As Suter wound up for a rare slapper, Coyle flew right through the jet-wash of Jake Allen and took away the vision of the Blues netminder as the puck rose into the corner of the net above the Allen’s blocker. It was all Wild after that...in terms of pressure. They desperately tried to find the tying tally as the horn had blown to end the period.
Minnesota didn’t necessarily look great as they came out for period two, but the Blues piled up the icing infractions. It allowed the Wild to play in the Blues zone and the Wild quickly got to its game. No goals would come of it. Allen was great, and got some great shot blocking from his defensemen.
A goal for the Wild seemed imminent, as it did in Game 1 as it came out for the 3rd period. However, the Blues had a say in the matter and gave the Wild a bit more to think about. Paul Stastny, fresh off the Injured Reserve list, sneaked the puck short side past Dubnyk. Dubnyk just didn’t seal off the post as Stastny got a second try at the puck from the side of the net. With the way Allen was playing and the trend of the series, that two-goal lead looked insurmountable.
Shortly after the Stastny goal, it looked like Niederreiter got a lucky bounce when he crashed the crease. Martin Hanzal took the initial shot and it ricocheted in off Nino between Allen’s feet. Sounds like a goal, right? Not. The officials waved the play off citing goalie interference. Upon review, Nino was in Allen’s grill, for sure, and he did make contact with the goalie. Jori Lehtera gave 22 a shove between the numbers into the Allen, but even on review, the officials felt it wasn’t a goal.
Then the Blues got undisciplined. Jay Bouwmeester tripped Mikael Granlund in the corner. On the ensuing power play, Granlund would set up the high-tip play to Nino Niederreiter in the slot. Allen made the save, but the puck popped up in the air and the captain Mikko Koivu bat the puck out of mid-air.
The Blues’ undisciplined play gave the Wild the chip. Koivu offered the chair. Jason Zucker provided the chance. Jonas Brodin, in transition, sent the puck up to the blue line for Erik Haula. Haula tipped the puck past the Blues’ defender standing up at the line. Jason Zucker had a clear lane, with the puck on his stick, to the net and tied the game at three. He exuded an incredible amount of patience on the play as he froze Allen, then moved wide to find the back of the net.
The Wild had the momentum, had finally scored more than two goals in the series, and had the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center with 19,228 raucous fans in full support. Minnesota was frenzied in their efforts to win the game in regulation. A late icing call with roughly 40 seconds left in regulation forced Mike Yeo to take his timeout. The timeout was gave his Blues squad a breather and instead, it was Dubnyk that was forced to make some great saves as time ran out.
The intermission didn’t slow the Wild’s roll. They stormed out in overtime and got some great puck possession as well as good chances on Allen. The Blues got chances after the Wild’s initial surge to end the game. Then Vladimir Sobotka received the puck on the half wall after Dubnyk played the puck up the boards. Hanzal couldn’t muscle him of the puck and when Sobotka turned away from the boards, he had a lane to the Wild net. As Wild defenders collapsed on Sobotka, the puck was moved to Paajarvi. Paajarvi deposited the puck into the net, and the players streamed over the boards to celebrate.
The Blues now head to the second round where they’ll take on the Nashville Predators who swept the Central Division champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild finally found the chinks in Allen’s armor, and it still was not good enough. After what was the Wild’s best regular season in franchise history, to be ousted in five games against anyone is a major disappointment. Is it embarrassing? No. The Blues are a team that has a defensive system that can win game. They are an NHL team too. They’re allowed to have a say in the outcome of any given game. It still does not stop this feeling of disappointment, and it likely never will.
Mike Yeo is a very good coach worthy of an NHL job. Bruce Boudreau is still the right coach now for this Wild team. As expansion comes in the offseason, with talent looking to break into the NHL next season, and with the normal roster churn of an NHL team, this team will be different next season. You just hope that come September, when these players reconvene for training camp, this sour taste sticks and they come out looking to make good on what was otherwise a fun, exciting season of hockey, even with the ultimate disappointment at the end.
Next for Hockey Wilderness, we have draft coverage, followed by free agency. Then, before you know it, hockey will be back and all will be right with the world again. We’d like to thank our readers for showing up all season long and making this a really fun season to be a part of the Wild Hockey blogosphere. The Wild might no longer be #COMM17TED, but we are committed to bringing you fun, informative content all offseason long.