The St. Louis Blues defeated the Wild by a 4-1 game margin in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round. Except it sure doesn’t feel like it should have ended so one-sided. For most the series, the talk was about how the Wild out-played the Blues, or were the better team, and that they just had run into a hot Jake Allen.
But talking heads in the Minnesota media love to point out one major fact - The Wild must not have out-played the Blues because they didn’t win.
Yes and no. Their argument points to how the goaltender is still a part of the team and that they are allowed to hold up their end of the bargain. Just like Devan Dubnyk is very much a vital piece of the Minnesota Wild, Jake Allen was that and more to the Blues, especially in the first round series with the Wild. So while one could say that the clearly the Wild didn’t out-play the Blues because the goaltender is still a part of the team and the Wild couldn’t beat their goaltender, it isn’t quite as simple as that.
Sure, the esoteric approach to sports can be great, even liberating. You see what you saw, there’s not much to analyze, and you don’t care about the intricacies much of the game. Sometimes the people that analyze the sport and game for a living want to believe that whatever it is that they analyze is the most important thing ever. Sometimes it’s the most difficult thing ever. This, of course, is a fallacy when put up against the daily grind of what people do and are capable of each day in much less pampered situations like professional sports.
That said, to simply simplify the games and how they played out in this series as, “Well, the goalie is a part of the team so you didn’t out-play the team,” or “the Wild didn’t win, so they weren’t the better team,” is asinine.
First, one should not have to specify that the skaters of the Wild had dramatically out-played the Blues’ skaters. Yes, from Game 1 on, the Wild gave effort, more shots on goal, more attempts, and out-hit the Blues. When Bruce Boudreau said during his post game presser after Game 5, “They weren’t the better team, but they won four games,” he wasn’t wrong. The Wild, as a whole, played a much better game than the Blues did.
There’s process and then there’s results. The Wild, all series long, exhibited great process. They did things that would otherwise put the team in a position to succeed more often than not. Unfortunately, those results can basically say, “To hell with your process!” Minnesota did not get the results they were looking for. And, yes, Jake Allen, who is a member of the Blues is allowed to out-play everyone on the ice.
When guys like Mike Milbury prior to Game 3 come out and say, “I don’t know how to break it to the Wild, but the name of the game is to score more goals than the other team,” it questions that process. Yet, looking back on the series, the Wild were never out-shot in the series, they owned the shot attempts, even within the high-danger home plate area of the ice, and Dubnyk did enough to keep the Wild always within striking distance. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. The effort was there each and every game.
If the Wild were getting lit up and losing 5-0 and only getting 15 shots on goal per game, then one could say that they played like crap. That fact is completely the opposite. The Wild played as good of a game as a team could play without scoring. That doesn’t mean Minnesota should revert to giving up 30+ shots and relying on solely on counter-attacking when the time is right. Over time, it has been shown that a conservative approach to defense leads to less offense and, get this, less wins.
Unfortunately, none of this helps with the sting of the disappointment. This article is not the ointment on the wound. However, if the Wild could play that series over again, I would say very little, if anything, is changed. Controlling the puck, dictating play, and shelling the goaltender is a recipe for success. It keeps the skaters of the opposition few chances to make things happen at the other end. Like the old adage says, “A good offense is the best defense.”
Minnesota’s process was far better than the process of the Blues. St. Louis just got the results. So could one look at the results and assume the process was better. What’s that old saying about when people assume?