Game 3 was fun while it lasted. With a chance to even the series at two games apiece, the Wild chuffed on home ice and dropped Game 4 in shutout fashion. Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves in a huge response game from him to send his team back to Winnipeg with a commanding 3-1 series lead. Mark Scheifele book-ended the scoring as the Wild struggled to find the back of the net.
However, before the national anthems were sung, we found out that Tyler Myers would not dress for the Jets, and in worse news, Zach Parise would be sidelined indefinitely because of a fractured sternum suffered in the final minutes of the 3rd period of Game 3.
The speed games for both teams were there as the Wild needed to get the Xcel Energy crowd into the game right away. Minnesota fired 11 shots toward Hellebuyck, only to be stymied. As good as the power play was for the Wild on Sunday, that was not the case Tuesday, and no where more was the loss of Parise felt than on the Wild’s two power play chances.
That said, the clutching and grabbing by the Jets was immense. Jason Zucker, who has been scoreless this series, used his feet and drew an interference minor for a power play late in the first. The Wild could have had a two-man advantage, and perhaps a major power play if a blatant cross check to Eric Staal’s noggin was called. Josh Morrissey, instead, was not called for even a minor, and allowed to the play the game through. He was huge for the Jets and made a strong defensive play to break up a Nino Niederreiter breakaway in the second period.
Staal crumpled to the ice and lied there in pain for a few seconds before wincing all the way to the bench and getting called back for concussion protocol. It’s about as egregious of a non-call as one will see in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How many games should Morrissey get for this cross check?
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3 or more
It looked like the Wild and Jets were headed to yet another scoreless first period. That was until Scheifele got a nice feed from Kyle Connor and lifted the puck over the blocker of Devan Dubnyk. The goal deflated the home crowd as both teams broke for intermission.
Minnesota didn’t let the Jets take it to them in the 2nd period. Instead the Wild got some looks on net. Zucker used his feet to draw another power play, this time getting hacked by Hellebuyck as 16 tried to circle the net. The problem with the Wild power play is that there’s just no creativity. You know they’re trying to get Matt Dumba a one-timer chance from the left faceoff circle. Except, the forwards don’t do enough work moving the puck between themselves and toward the net to keep that option and lane open for Dumba. The puck movement is better, but it’s still just really deliberate.
Minnesota got a 3-on-1 break that Mikael Granlund passed for Dumba on the weak side that Hellebuyck had to make a swimming save to keep out of the net. It was, perhaps, the key save of the game. The Wild just didn’t generate enough shots from the slot, nor did they get the rebounds for just about the rest of the game.
In a very important third period, the Wild got nine shots on goal and many were of the one and done variety. Minnesota just couldn’t sustain any pressure in the offensive zone for long enough to attack the middle of the ice. The one chance late in the period had a puck flutter high and Zucker tried to bat the puck in and the puck just sailed over the cross bar.
The Jets were efficient, and they closed that game out inside the Wild’s end. Meanwhile, the Wild were giving up odd-man rushes and were very sloppy on breakouts, often coughing up the puck at either blue line. The Jets also rang the post twice, narrowly putting the Wild away before they even got a chance.
With Dubnyk pulled for the extra attacker, we saw the Wild try and conduct the 6-on-5 play like a power play. Instead of hurtling pucks towards the net and trying to clean up rebounds, Minnesota was more content to rim the puck around the boards. Rather than gather the puck and immediately send it to the blue paint, they were trying for the good play to find the equalizer. Dumba, along the near half-wall, made a blind pass to the middle of the ice where it was easily intercepted by the Jets and Scheifele took the puck all the way to the empty net to seal the game.
No doubt Parise was missed. No doubt Jordan Greenway, who was placed on to the Mikko Koivu - Zucker line, was not ready for the hard match ups he faced. Mikael Granlund left the ice twice to get stitched up after taking a puck to the face...twice! Marcus Foligno had one shift where I though, “man, he’s bringing it.” Zucker has been so incredibly quiet, it’s not even funny. Overall, Wild players had issues with the puck on their sticks.
Now Minnesota finds themselves in a 3-1 hole heading back to hostile territory. The 2003 team did the impossible by coming back from two 3-1 deficits to get to the Western Conference Final, but 1) this is not that team nor does it have anyone around that was a part of that run, and 2) just because it’s happened before still means it’s extremely unlikely. The Wild need to figure out their away game and rise to the challenge. At least make it interesting.
Game 5 will start at 6:30 CT on Friday up in Winnipeg.