As the regular season has come to an end, Last Word On Sports analyzes every playoff series. In the first installment, we take a look at the matchups in five categories: Offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and special teams. We also run down the players to look out for and give our final assessment on how the series will pan out. In the second portion, we will analyze what went down in the series, how the matchups led to the outcome and cover all important storylines.
The Minnesota Wild are set to face the Chicago Blackhawks for the third time in as many years after knocking out the St. Louis Blues in six games. Both teams had at least 100 points in the regular season, but only one team could move on. Here is our series recap of Blues versus Wild.
Game 1: Jason Zucker got the first goal of the series just 2:47 into the first period. The Wild would double their lead in the second period, and lead 2-0 to start the third. Jaden Schwartz got the Blues on the board, but the Wild would get the empty net goal to lead 3-1. On the ensuing faceoff, David Backes took an undisciplined penalty to leave his team shorthanded for the final minutes. The Blues scored to make it a 1 goal game again, but were unable to score a second shorthanded goal, and lost the game 4-2.
Game 2: The Blues responded in a big way to their opening game defeat, as they were the ones to take a 2-0 lead from 2 goals by Vladimir Tarasenko. The Wild would cut the lead in half, but the Blues scored restored the 2 goal lead, and Tarasenko completed the hat trick with an empty net goal to win the game and tie the series.
Game 3: The Wild’s top line of Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville were very good in this game, as they scored 2 goals in a span of 2:05 in the second period. The Blues couldn’t get much going offensively this game, as Devan Dubynk saved all 17 shots he faced to earn the shutout and take back the series lead.
Game 4: The Blues had a great start to this game, picking up a 3-0 lead half way through the first. They continued to dominate throughout the second, extending their lead to 6-1. It was all St. Louis this game, as five different players scored for them, with Tarasenko having two. They would head home with the series tied two games apiece.
Game 5: Appearing to have taken control of the series after such a huge win, the Blues carried the play all through the first period, outshooting the Wild 12-3. Tarasenko scored his sixth of the playoffs, while Marco Scandella got a goal that Jake Allen would like to have back. The Wild took over in the second period, scoring twice to put themselves up 3-1. The Blues outshot Minnesota 19-3 in the third, but Dubnyk was great, and got his team the victory.
Game 6: With the series on the line, the Blues decided to go with Allen again, and it may have cost them. He allowed two suspect goals to put his team down 2-0 halfway through the game. Allen was pulled after the second goal in favour of Brian Elliott. T.J. Oshie managed to score in the dying seconds of the second period to give the Blues some life. However, it was short lived as Parise scored his second of the game just over a minute into the third. The Blues had 12 shots in the final frame, but couldn’t get one past Dubnyk. The Wild added an empty netter to win the series 4 games to 2.
STORYLINES OF THE SERIES
Best Players Being Your Best Players
Minnesota’s trio of Parise, Granlund, and Pominville were the team’s top three scorers, combining for 17 points throughout the series. That line came up big when they were needed the most, especially in Game 6, where Parise had 2 pivotal goals. For the Blues, Kevin Shattenkirk had 8 assists, and Tarasenko had 6 goals and an assist (his 6 goals is tied for most in the playoffs), but there wasn’t enough production out of their other forwards. Backes and Oshie each had just 1 goal and 1 assist, while big free agent signing Paul Stastny had just a single goal.
Dubnyk was getting his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action (his first playoff game of any kind since 2007) and he was stellar. He allowed only 4 goals throughout his team’s 4 victories. His strong play got the Wild into the playoffs, and it was a major factor in allowing them to advance as well. For St. Louis, head coach Ken Hitchcock decided to go with Jake Allen instead of veteran Brian Elliott. While Allen did play well for the most part, he did let in untimely goals that proved to be costly. Allen is just a rookie and still learning, and was given a lot of responsibility, but perhaps a bit too much.
Blues Playoff Struggles
For the third straight year, the Blues were eliminated in the first round. Each time they held home ice advantage, and each one ended in a six game loss. Their last series win was in 2012 against the San Jose Sharks (who are also known to struggle at this time of year). St. Louis has been one of the better regular season teams in recent memory, and should have more post season success considering how deep and talented their teams have been. Whether it’s been suspect goaltending, offence drying up, or just not putting in enough effort, the Blues might need to make some considerable changes before they can make a run in the playoffs.
Series Predictions From Our Hockey Department:
Brandon Altomonte: Wild in 7. (1 of 2 correct).
Cristiano Simonetta: Blues in 7. (0 of 2 correct).
Ben Kerr: Blues in 7. (0 of 2 correct).
Shawn Wilken: Blues in 6. (1 of 2 correct).
Charlie Clark: Blues in 6. (1 of 2 correct).
Tyler Shea: Wild in 7. (1 of 2 correct).
Matt Ricks: Wild in 6. (2 of 2 correct).
Markus Meyer: Wild in 7. (1 of 2 correct).
David Stevenson: Blues in 7. (0 of 2 correct).
Dave Gove: Blues in 7. (0 of 2 correct).