NHL PLAYOFFS - FIRST ROUND - GAME 4
MINNESOTA WILD VS WINNIPEG JETS
7PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
TV: CNBC, SN, Fox Sports-North
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: Fox Sports Go app
Entering Game 3, it was difficult to maintain any belief whatsoever that the Wild still had any hope of escaping the first round of the 2018 NHL Playoffs. Once again deep in a 0-2 abyss, and facing the unenviable task of climbing out of said bottomless chasm against one of the NHL’s best teams, the mood around the State of Hockey and the Wild blogosphere was notably gloomy. But since Minnesota knocked off the Jets in convincing fashion in Sunday’s contest, the general sentiment surrounding this team seems to have lightened at least a little.
Still, Bruce Boudreau made it very clear to media after yesterday’s practice that he wasn’t especially thrilled with everything his team did in its 6-2 victory, and reminded us that nothing has really been accomplished after one win. “We’re still in a desperate situation. We were [Sunday], we still are [Tuesday]. It’s not a question about feeling good about yourself. We survived.” So, basically, get off your high horse, Wilderness, because there’s a lot of work to be done before Minnesota really makes this a series.
With tonight’s Game 4 resulting in either Minnesota evening the series or falling to a practically insurmountable 3-1 deficit, this game is absolutely pivotal. So bring your “A” game, Wild fans!
As the saying goes, “Keep shootin’ while he’s shakin’.”
I’m still not sold on Connor Hellebuyck as a playoff netminder. Sure, he had a fantastic regular season, as did most of the players on the Jets. But like in many of the contests throughout his historic 44-win campaign, he was the beneficiary in Games 1 and 2 of playing behind a team that was on fire. Even in those two victorious efforts to open this series, Hellebuyck—who faced 20 or fewer shots in each—didn’t have to do much to help his high-flying (that’s a Jet pun) team to victory.
When Minnesota finally started to put some sustained pressure on Hellebuyck in the second period of Game 3, things unraveled for him very quickly, and he ended up on the bench in the third. The Wild found success by getting traffic in front on shots from the point, and by firing quick snappers up high around Hellebuyck’s ears. The seeds of doubt are most definitely planted, so the Wild needs to unload a barrage of pucks on Hellebuyck early tonight, before he has a chance to solidify his currently delicate confidence.
Editor’s Note: Wild fans in attendance, I expect you to be all OVER Hellebuyck from the opening face-off tonight. I might recommend something along the lines of, “Hellebucyk, you hella suck!” I think that has a nice ring to it. At the very least, please never stop singing his name!
Say what you want about the play with Marcus Foligno (he vehemently denies any wicked intentions, and Boudreau actually laughed at the idea that the hit to the knee was intentional), but the potential loss of Tyler Myers for tonight’s game and the foreseeable future is a big one. Myers has been very impactful in this series, scoring two goals and adding an assist through three contests, and also throwing his enormous body around constantly. The potential removal of his 6’ 8” frame from the lineup leaves a huge hole—both literally and figuratively—on Winnipeg’s blueline. Now it sounds like Tucker Poolman, who has played 24 career NHL games (all this season with the Jets) is likely to draw in.
The Jets won 11 of their last 12 regular season games, but before that incredible stretch started, they did lose three straight. Can they possibly go on another little losing streak now?
The Wild got contributions from all facets of its lineup on Sunday, something that must become a trend for it to go on any kind of a run in these playoffs. Guys like Jordan Greenway (first NHL goal), Nick Seeler (four blocked shots, two assists), and Foligno (first career playoff goal, three hits) were huge parts of that victory. Which unsung role players will step up for the Wild tonight?
Meanwhile, one of Minnesota’s usual suspects from the regular season made himself known for the first time in this series on Sunday. Eric Staal—who tied the Wild franchise record in goals this season—was noticeably unnoticeable in each of the two games in Winnipeg. But he started Game 3 off by barreling his way repeatedly to the front of the Jets’ net, and simply taking whatever ice he wanted. You could see from the start that he was actively trying to be more engaged physically, and the offensive side of his game obviously followed. In the Wild’s huge second period, Staal received an outrageously good pass from Mikael Granlund, who pulled the Woo Woo Kenny Woo play from D2 to create the space. When the puck magically appeared on Staal’s tape, he didn’t hesitate. He rifled a quick snapshot over the shoulder of Hellebuyck, who was down too early.
Another veteran who made his presence known was Zach Parise, although that was nothing new in this series. Parise has been Minnesota’s best skill forward through three games, and he’s been rewarded with a goal in each contest. ZP is currently playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen from him since he signed with the Wild, so let’s hope he keeps that magic alive!
The officials opened Game 3 determined to set a tone that they were going to be calling that one tighter than a pair of medium-sized briefs on an adult elephant. They dished out two very cheesy slashing calls against the Wild in the opening minutes, then returned the favor a few minutes later. Regardless of how the neurotic refs decide to approach tonight’s contest, Minnesota has to do a better job of staying out of the box and keeping Winnipeg’s deadly power play off the ice.
No Ryan Suter, no Luke Kunin. Matt Dumba, who was allegedly a “game-time decision” before Game 3, had another enormous outing, so I’d say it’s likely he stays in tonight.
As mentioned, Myers is unlikely to play. I haven’t heard much on Mathieu Perreault since he left Game 1 with an apparent shoulder injury.
The Gamethread will post at 6:30PM Central. Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com. Thanks for reading!
Ben Chiarot // Tucker Poolman