Jason Pominville might lose sleep over this one.
Late in the third period, with the Minnesota Wild pressing for the tying goal to send Game 1 into overtime, the puck took a fortuitous bounce off the end glass and eventually found its way to Pominville in a prime shooting location. But the puck was rolling, and Pominville sent his shot well wide of the net, with goalie Corey Crawford beat.
The host Chicago Blackhawks held on from there for the 4-3 victory and a 1-0 series lead over the Wild.
Earlier on, it looked like this game might turn into a blowout. The Blackhawks, in front of their home crowd, erupted to beat Devan Dubnyk three times on eight shots, taking a 3-0 lead into the intermission.
But the Wild battled back. Jason Zucker, Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund scored within a span of 9:30 into the middle period, getting Minnesota back into a tie game. Dubnyk did his part, making a spectacular save on Patrick Sharp to ensure the Wild didn’t fall further behind when still trailing by two.
However, Teuvo Teravainen’s first career playoff goal — a wrist shot from the side boards that got by Dubnyk — with under a minute remaining in that frantic second period stood as the winner.
If the Minnesota Wild can come back to take Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, people will almost certainly look back to a key save from Devan Dubnyk on Patrick Sharp in the second period.
With the Blackhawks up 3-1, having scored three times in the opening period, Dubnyk got across with the right pad to stop Sharp on a one-timer, preventing Chicago from going up by a trio of goals. A few minutes later, Zach Parise and then Mikael Granlund scored for Minnesota to make it a 3-3 game.
(Teuvo Teravainen gave the lead back to Chicago, scoring with under a minute remaining in the middle period.)
When the Wild signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts, it was a statement that Minnesota expected to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup in the near future.
In their first year together they ended Minnesota’s four-season long playoff drought. In the Wild’s second campaign of the Praise/Suter era, they won their first playoff series since 2003. In both postseason runs though, they were eliminated by Chicago and if the Wild are to take another step forward this year, they will have to finally get the better of the Blackhawks in their upcoming series.
The biggest change this time around is goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Before acquiring him from Arizona, the Wild seemed to be on their way to having a disappointing campaign. Minnesota had lost six straight games and had given up seven goals twice in that span. From Jan. 15 onward, Minnesota posted a 28-9-3 record with Dubnyk starting in almost every contest.
Dubnyk earned a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 regular season games with Minnesota, which led to him getting a Vezina Trophy nomination. Although the Blues had some success against him in the first round, they couldn’t beat him consistently and that was a big part of their downfall. Contrast that stability in net with what Minnesota experienced in the 2014 playoffs when goaltending injuries were a big part of the story.
Of course, it’s not just about him. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Pominville all had a strong series against St. Louis. The Wild will certainly need that kind of offensive depth going forward because there’s one thing they should be painfully aware of at this point: the Blackhawks are an immensely talented team and it takes everyone chipping in to beat them.
How quickly things can change in playoff hockey.
The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues were involved in a tight, scoreless hockey game late in the second period before the host team suddenly took control on the score board. The Wild would eventually earn a 3-0 victory over the Blues to take a 2-1 series lead.
First it was Jason Pominville who got the Wild on the board, tapping the puck into a wide open net on a terrific feed in front. Just over two minutes later, Zach Parise gave Minny a two-goal lead with his first goal of the series, as he found a loose puck amongst a multitude of skates and snapped his shot top corner on Jake Allen.
The trio of Pominville, Parise and Mikael Granlund combined for six points.
That’s all the scoring the Wild would need. Minnesota put on a smothering defensive clinic, allowing just 17 shots on goalie Devan Dubnyk all night.
Dubnyk, who was critical of himself after making a mistake on the Blues’ second goal in Game 2, didn’t allow anything, either. He stopped all 17 shots he faced to record his first career Stanley Cup playoff shutout.
The St. Louis Blues made a game of it, but will lament a slow start in their loss to the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their first-round series on Thursday.
It wasn’t until the third period that the Blues finally made a substantial push. Twice in the final 20 minutes, they got to within a goal but couldn’t find the equalizer. Minnesota buried a pair of empty net goals, with Mikael Granlund scoring the winner with 1:13 remaining in regulation time, as the Wild came away with a 4-2 victory and 1-0 series lead.
Just 14 seconds after Granlund gave Minnesota a two-goal cushion, Alexander Steen provided the Blues a faint glimmer of hope, perhaps catching the Wild off guard and cutting its lead to one. It set up for an interesting finish when this game looked like it was over just before that.
Again, the Blues just couldn’t tie it. Jason Pominville cemented the win into the empty net with 20 seconds remaining.
Devan Dubnyk, making his first career playoff start after a remarkable regular season performance following his mid-season trade from Arizona to Minnesota, wasn’t overly busy until the third period, but he stopped 19 of 21 shots faced for the win.
It appeared for a while like Matt Dumba’s first career Stanley Cup playoff goal would turn out to be the winner. He gave the Wild a two-goal lead on a power play blast that beat Jake Allen glove side early in the second period.