Vladimir Tarasenko notched a hat trick as the Blues trumped the Wild 4-1 to even their first-round series as it heads to Minnesota.
1. Tarasenko can be the difference-maker
Tarasenko didn't get a single shot on goal in Game 1. It wasn't nearly enough for a St. Louis team that depends on its Russian youngster for offense. It figures, then, that he'd come back with a hat trick in Game Two.
His first goal–a deflection-came after a series of good shifts in which the Blues were getting pucks deep, making sure the puck and the players arrived in Devan Dubnyk's crease at the same time. Tarasenko timed his arrival to the blue paint perfectly, making a fantastic play to contort his arms and stick around the defender at the exact moment the shot arrived.
The second marker, which the winger banked off Dubnyk's shoulder on the power play, is easy to dismiss as merely the Wild goalie's mistake, but it's a credit to Tarasenko's reputation, if nothing else. Dubnyk had to respect Tarasenko's passing and play-making ability to cheat that far.
St. Louis can finally make a deep run in the playoffs if it has a game-breaker on offense that other teams have to game plan for, a la Marian Gaborik for L.A. last year. Tarasenko is the logical choice to fill that role. He had 11 more regular season points this year than any other single forward on the previous three playoff-fizzling Blues teams.
2. God might just be a Wild fan
The Almighty may not have successfully rigged Game Two for Minnesota, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Ryan Suter almost scored a second-period power play goal by shooting it in off the boards. After hitting the area right above the boards, the puck made a beeline for Jake Allen's five hole, which had been momentarily open. Had it not been for Allen's clever sweep of the goal line with his leg, Suter would have been on the board.
The good (or bad, one might argue) luck continued early in the third, when a Wild dump-in from center ice hit another partisan stanchion, putting the puck on the stick of a suddenly very open and very dangerous Jason Zucker in the slot.
It should be no surprise then that when the Wild finally did get on the board, the goal was so odd as to leave Blues coach Ken Hitchcock practically smiling. Marco Scandella's stick broke, fooling everyone on the equivalent of an off-speed shot.
From the Blues perspective, the take-away from these weird plays has to be a new-found confidence in Jake Allen's technique and alertness. Minnesota has to hope it didn't waste all its good luck in a losing effort.
3. Minnesota needs scoring depth
From the misleading statistics depatrment: the Wild's third line was their most productive on the score sheet. Charlie Coyle and Thomas Vanek nabbed assists on the Scandella tally. They also nearly combined for a beautiful goal in the third, when Coyle received a Vanek pass and shook his way free into the slot.
But the consistency wasn't there. In contrast to the Wild fourth line that put in some great shifts, Vanek and Co. seemed invisible for most of the game. Coyle and Vanek combined for zero shots on goal. Coyle's great third period chance hit the pipe before being scooped out of the crease by David Backes.
Just going by Corsi rating, the Vanek-Coyle-Nino Niederreiter trio was the best Wild line in Game 1 (and of course had the worst boxcar stats, combining for a -3 and 0 points). They need to repeat that series-opening performance going forward.
Part of the problem in this game was unfavorable matchups against Tarasenko's especially effective line. When coach Mike Yeo can work more favorable matchups on home ice in Games 3 and 4, perhaps he can spring Vanek and neutralize Tarasenko with one deft switch.
Whoever it is up against, though, that third line will just have to play better to match the Blues' forward depth.