Wild use merciless defense to subdue Blues in Game 3 shutout victory
From the cloud of dust that was the first 25 minutes of Game 3, the Wild emerged with their poise intact to shrug off the Blues’ enforcers and stay focused on cracking St. Louis goalie Jake Allen. Minnesota finally broke through for two goals late in the second period and stood tall at its own end to deliver netminder Devan Dubnyk the first shutout of the 2015 playoffs on Monday night at the Xcel Energy Center with a 3-0 win. The Wild now hold a 2-1 edge in the series.
Here are three thoughts on the Wild’s Game 3 win:
1. Minnesota put on a master class in shot prevention
How would Wild coach Mike Yeo respond after the Blues' dynamic winger Vladimir Tarasenko terrorized his team in Game 2 with a hat trick? Simple: Keep the 23-year-old playmaker, or the rest of the St. Louis forwards, from ever having the puck.
For large, choppy stretches of Game 3, it was easy to see why both teams finished among the league’s top five in shot suppression during the regular season. An extended sequence that began as a string of spirited Minnesota counter-attacks congealed into long stretches of puck control for the Wild, who outshot the Blues 24-17 for the game and had allowed just 10 shots on Dubnyk through two periods.
Every St. Louis puck-carrier was driven to the wall or met with a flurry of active sticks in the neutral zone, and the countless frustrated attempts slowed the Blues’ transition game to a crawl. That formula will silence almost any top scorer the Wild may face later on in the playoffs.
2. Zach Parise was all over the scoresheet
During the Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring of 2012, Parise had running mates in Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac who could be counted on to help shoulder the goal-scoring load for a team who needed to make the most of limited chances. In Minnesota, Parise may be leading a lineup with less firepower, but his vision, effort and creativity continue to get the job done for a defense-first team that looks to him for leadership.
The Wild captain was the star of the best line on the ice Monday night, threading a pass to Jason Pominville for the game’s first goal at 14:08 of the second period after center Mikael Granlund's inspired rush up the left boards. Just over two minutes later, Parise got a goal of his own, digging the puck out from in between the skates of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in the slot and rifling a shot past Allen to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.
Parise and his line were denied a three-point night by a point-blank miss off the stick of Granlund early in the third period, a scoring chance he started by drawing in the defense and finding Pominville wide open on the far circle to set up what should have been a tic-tac-toe finish on the doorstep. Parise led the Wild in points last postseason with four goals and 10 assists, and Minnesota wouldn’t mind a similar ratio this spring.
3. The Blues’ road woes continue
St. Louis may want to consider burning its road white jerseys. Game 3 marked the Blues’ ninth consecutive loss in a road playoff game, a run of futility away from the Scottrade Center that dates back to a four-game sweep at the hands of the Kings in the 2012 conference semifinals.
It may sound counterintuitive, but coach Ken Hitchcock’s best chance of snapping that streak in enemy territory could be an emphasis on risk-taking. Tarasenko didn’t need acres of space to produce his Game 2 hat trick, and on Monday night the Blues had the puck so infrequently that their limited opportunities to stretch the ice resulted in missed connections or shots from bad angles.
Despite the best efforts of Ryan Reeves, Steve Ott and Barrett Jackman, who found themselves at the center of numerous post-whistle scrums that antagonized the Minnesota crowd and delivered jolts of energy to their own bench, the Blues need their playmakers to be the ones driving the action the rest of the way. More time in the offensive zone and more pucks thrown at Dubnyk would allow the Blues to channel their aggression toward more constructive ends.