Devan Dubnyk rebounded from a poor Game 4 outing to stifle the Blues and the Wild received goals from four players Friday to take a 4-1 win and a 3-2 series lead. Minnesota heads home to the Xcel Energy Center with the chance to close out the series on Sunday.
Three thoughts on the Wild victory:
1. Dubnyk hasn't turned into a pumpkin
After Dubnyk gave up six goals in less than two periods in Game 4, it was easy to wonder if the magic had finally run out. He had, after all, performed at a less-than-Vezina level against the Blues before that disastrous outing, posting .905 and .885 save percentages in Games 1 and 2 before a relatively easy shutout at home in Game 3.
But Dubnyk was Minnesota's best player in a game in which he absolutely had to be. He stopped 36 of 37 shots, including 19 in the third period. St. Louis sustained extended shifts in the Wild's defensive zone throughout the game and Dubnyk stopped an onslaught of excellent chances.
No single save was better than the one he made halfway through the second period on Alexander Steen, down and out after a terrific St. Louis cycle. The Wild goalie kicked his left leg out at the exact right moment, catching the puck with the toe of his skate.The most amazing aspect of the play is how his legs seem hopelessly entangled before he gets just high enough to deflect the puck.
On the same day the league announced his Vezina finalist status, Dubnyk reminded everyone how he and the Wild got to this point. The Blues played extremely well and this loss stings for that reason alone. What's worse, though, is that in giving Dubnyk a statistically gaudy win after Game 4's rout, they allowed the netminder to reestablish his confidence and maybe catch fire for the rest of the playoffs.
2. 'Road sweet road' is still the Wild's motto
It's hard to say Minnesota played a perfect road game. But it got a perfect road game, for the effort it put forth, and that was good enough.
The blueprint for winning on the road during the Stanley Cup playoffs usually involves a strong push out of the gate and an early goal to get the crowd out of it. The Wild... did the opposite of that.
They got hammered in the first period. The 12-3 shot advantage might actually undersell the Blues' dominance. A Blues power play goal in the first 10 minutes of the game got the crowd excited and seemed to cement the momentum in their favor. Then, almost three minutes after the Blues' goal, Jake Allen whiffed on a glove save from a bad-angle Marco Scandella shot.
Escaping the first period tied was a definite win for the Wild, and that allowed them to take the lead in the second, in which they played their game better, doubled the Blues' shots and pulled away.
The goal that put them in front, Nino Niederreiter's bullet 14:56 into the period, rewarded a deft lineup change by Mike Yeo. St. Louis showed more jump throughout the game, breaking up plays in the neutral zone and using their speed to run circles around the Wild in their own zone.
Minnesota's best chance at creating zone pressure was through physical superiority, winning board battles and cycling down low. Yeo moved Niederreiter to a line with Charlie Coyle and Chris Stewart, giving the Wild a line that blended skill and size well. Stewart's ability to work over defenders all night paid off when he found Niederreiter wide open in the slot.
Ultimately, the Wild got everything they needed in a game in which they were seriously outplayed: quality over quantity scoring chances, fantastic goaltending and ability to weather the storm early and late.
3. The Blues' streakiness continues
In a series everyone expected to be close and which could easily go seven games, the individual contests have all been blowouts, more or less. It's familiar territory for this excellent, but inconsistent Blues team, which scored six or more goals in 10 regular season contests. If they hold true to form, they'll probably explode for eight goals in Game Six, bringing the series back to St. Louis.
Another reason to be optimistic for the St. Louis offense is that it seemingly had the Wild defense figured out in this game, save for Dubnyk (no pun intended). Paul Stastny, who filled in for the injured Jori Lehtera in the St. Louis top six, performed much better than his stat line (-2, 0 point, 1 shot on goal) suggests. The Blues attempted 20 shots with Stastny on the ice.
The Blues may have traded a little bit of shot quality for quantity, though. The NBC broadcast crew praised the Blues' frenetic high cycle, with one forward at the blue line, and the Wild's aforementioned punishing low cycle, but only one produced tangible results. Much of that contrast in results had to do with the difference between Jake Allen and Devan Dubnyk in this game. But the goaltending matchup was always assumed to be in the Wild's favor. The Blues' need to arrive in the crease along with their many shots, something they did extremely well in their Game 2 and 4 wins.