Wild-Blues Preview

The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild have been trading blows, though the latest definitely contained the most force.

After running it up in Minnesota, the Blues return home Friday night for Game 5 with a shot at gaining their first lead in the first-round series.

Wednesday's 6-1 win was pretty well secured after the Blues imposed their physical style to build a three-goal lead in just over 10 minutes.

"When we check, we score. It looks like we've joined the tournament now, and we're dialed in," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "So we've got home ice back, we're dialed into our game and hopefully we're going to be hard to play against."

Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and Kevin Shattenkirk added three assists to run his series total to seven and to 11 in his last eight overall.

The Blues led 6-1 after two periods and chased goaltender Devan Dubnyk for the second time in less than two weeks after doing so in a 4-2 win in the regular-season finale April 11. The problem is they haven't been able to play with any consistency.

"We had to assert ourselves," David Backes said. "We've just got to stop this trend of every other game."

It might be preferable to how recent playoff series have gone. Over the last two seasons, St. Louis has gone up 2-0 in the first round before dropping four straight. Including a sweep in the second round the previous season and the Game 3 loss in Minnesota, the Blues had lost their last 11 playoff games beyond Game 2.

Tarasenko has fallen into the trend with his five goals in the series coming in the wins, while he's had no shots on goal in the losses. He had a hat trick in Game 2 and has eight goals and three assists in eight games against Minnesota this season.

Just one of those contests has been decided by one goal and the series numbers are tight. The teams have split four in Minnesota and four in St. Louis with 22 goals apiece.

However, after allowing a franchise-record six playoff goals in the latest, the Wild are rethinking things.

"We may have been a little cocky. We felt really good and rightfully so," left wing Zach Parise said. "We felt good about the way we played the last game. I don't know if we thought it was going to be an easy game or if we thought they were going to pack it in, but that wasn't the case at all."

Minnesota managed a season-low 18 shots and didn't score at even strength.

That made for an easy night for Jake Allen, who has provided some balance for the Blues with a .935 save percentage in the series as well as a .945 mark over a 6-3-1 span. He's won three of five starts against the Wild without allowing more than two goals.

Both goaltenders are starting their first playoff series. Dubnyk's numbers are more erratic with an .864 save percentage, and that includes a Game 3 shutout. He's faced St. Louis seven times in just under six weeks with four wins, though he's allowed three goals or more four times.

After getting off to an eye-catching start with Minnesota in which he won 26 of 34 starts with a .939 save percentage, the heavy workload could be catching up with Dubnyk during a 3-5-1 April with an .895 mark.

"I think none of us expected this to be a sweep in our favor or a short series, by any means," Dubnyk said. "We knew it was going to be a battle, and that's what its turning out to be."

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