While we always like to inject a bit of humor and sarcasm as we bid farewell to teams that fall throughout the playoffs, the series between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues had a scary moment that will be on the minds of everyone that watched. So, let’s address that first.
Eric Staal came to Minnesota during the offseason and was the only player on the ice for the Wild with a Stanley Cup on his resume. In the second period, Staal crashed the net for a scoring opportunity that put him on a collision course with Blues netminder Jake Allen. Unfortunately, momentum carried Staal head first into the boards with one of the scarier crashes thus far in these playoffs.
Staal left the ice under his own power with an assist from the Wild’s medical staff and Ryan Suter, and he was then taken to an area hospital for further testing. The Wild later stated that Staal was alert and stable and had been released from the hospital. While these rivalries are always fierce, you never want to see a player go down in such a precarious manner. Hopefully, Staal will be alright and ready to get back into the fray for the Wild as they will undoubtedly be back and ready to challenge for another run at the Cup next season.
Now, let’s dial back the seriousness a bit as we get into how the Minnesota Wild wound up with a tee time instead of a dance card filled with Nashville Predators.
All In, Still Out
The Minnesota Wild went all in as they loaded up on depth up the middle adding both Staal (fresh off a stint with the New York Rangers) and Martin Hanzal (at the deadline). Unfortunately, while the Wild did have a distinct edge throughout most of the series on the dot, it simply didn’t translate to goals scored.
The more glaring stat is the fact the Minnesota took 182 shots on Jake Allen to St. Louis’ 133. Unfortunately, only eight of those shots made it past the Blues red-hot netminder.
This is a lesson that clearly needs to be hammered home in Minnesota as it seems to be a large part of their playoff narrative every year. A great goalie can stand on his head all day long, but it won’t make a bit of difference when you fail to put the puck behind the opposing netminder with any regularity.
Workhorse vs. Star Power
The Wild has always been a hard working team, but time and again their lack of star power seems to equate to a power outage when the lights are the brightest. They don’t have a Vladimir Tarasenko, or a Connor McDavid, or even a Brad Marchand, or Erik Karlsson. Don’t get me wrong, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Suter are the leaders, and they are not second class hockey players by any stretch but, when they are up against the league’s best offensive weapons, the discrepancy is clear.
In this case, the Blues came out with tanks and the Wild rolled in on a golf cart.
The Wild scored two or fewer goals in all but one of the five games, and through the first three games, Parise had a hand in every goal with two goals and a primary assist on Charlie Coyle‘s loan goal in Game 3. Parise is one of the Wild’s standout players, so he should be involved in their offensive push, but if he’s your primary scoring threat against a team with a lot of speed and a solid blue line you can expect they’ll work to shut him down.
For whatever reason, Minnesota still hasn’t figured out how to get the depth scoring necessary to get deep into the playoffs. Do they have the talent? It sure seems like they should with Parise, Suter, Koivu, Staal, and Hanzal but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t enough against a stacked offensive team like the St. Louis Blues.
Apart from Game 5, the Wild had one line scoring in the first four games with linemates Hanzal and Coyle each scoring to cap off Devan Dubnyk‘s Game 4 shutout.
What ever are the Blues supposed to do? There’s no way they can shut down ONE line. Said no one ever.
Unless the Blues suddenly forget how to play the game of hockey, this is a fairly simple equation. If a line has success, shut them down. Mission accomplished as they managed to neutralize Parise after a heroic game-tying goal as the clock wound down sending it to overtime in Game 1 and another goal in Game 2.
Special Teams Spoiler
The Blues dared the rest of the team to step in and score some goals, and they gave them ample opportunities. They gave the Wild 19 chances on the man advantage. The Wild capitalized on three. Two of those came in the final game.
Special teams turn games, and for Minnesota, they just weren’t special enough.
When the Wild look back on this series, they will undoubtedly look at all of the opportunities they had to turn games as the Blues took multiple penalties late in games with the Wild in striking distance. What they didn’t do was truly challenge Allen.
Too often, the Wild were pulling up behind the dots and firing shots at Allen who was all alone at the top of his crease. Allen was easily able to track the puck all the way into his glove or cast is aside well out of harms way too often. In the final game, they finally took Allen into his crease, but the play was easily ruled goalie interference as Mikael Granlund hooked his stick around Allen’s neck and pulled him into his net.
Granlund grabs Allen around the mask and pulls him down in the crease. He’ll sit for goalie interference. #stlblues
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) April 22, 2020
Fans were irate being that the game was in the State of Hockey, but Granlund was about as guilty as a dog with an empty box of cookies.
Missed Opportunities = Tee Times
The Wild are a very good team; there is no discounting that. They had an outstanding season, and Dubnyk did everything he could to keep his team in all five games he simply didn’t have the run support in tight contests to steal the wins and he ran up against a netminder who is playing out of his mind. Allen is going to be tough no matter who they come up against if he can continue to play at this level.
The season ended in overtime with a costly turnover by Dubnyk from behind his net, and Magnus Paajarvi buried it. That will undoubtedly haunt the Wild and their netminder.
Dubnyk had another outstanding year, in spite of a rough patch towards the end of the season but sadly that rough patch cost him another crack at the Vezina.
Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby voted finalists for Vezina Trophy. That last month of the season crushed Devan Dubnyk.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) April 22, 2020
The Wild are missing a key building block in their foundation. That elite level scorer who can turn power plays, use their speed to create time and space, and craft plays on the fly. Without that, the Wild will be very familiar with the disappointment that comes with ending the season too early.
How many more Vezina quality seasons does Dubnyk have left? If they don’t find that elite scoring talent to create plays and score the big goals the Wild and their fans may run out of time as mileage is still accruing for each player and it doesn’t roll back until players accomplish their Stanley Cup dreams.
The shelf life for some of the Wild’s players is getting awfully close to that best by date, and the Chicago Blackhawks have just proven that even Cup winners aren’t immune to getting older as they were unceremoniously kicked to the curb in four after the Predators made them look like a museum exhibit.
The Wild were dispatched by the Blue Notes (and former Wild coach Mike Yeo) in five games booking a trip to the Music City to face the Nashville Predators. One of the teams will be singing the blues, while the other will be hitting the high notes on the way to the Western Conference Final.
Mr. Game 8
For Bruce Boudreau, the best team didn’t win. So, with this logic, as long as you take the most shots, make fewer on ice gaffes, and take fewer penalties you are the better team. Sure. So, what you’re saying is there is nothing about the fact that your team failed to capitalize on all of those things that’s indicative of perhaps NOT being the better team Mr. Game 8? I guess if you were given say three more chances, the end result would have been different?
For the record, scoring goals is the only thing that matters in terms of determining the best team Bruce, they don’t give out blue ribbons to all the children who participate.
On the bright side, Boudreau will not have to talk about Game 7’s at all this season.
Bruce Boudreau doesn't believe the best team won his #StanleyCup Playoff series. https://t.co/2AuWyfa6Hv via @YahooSports
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 23, 2020