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.
Three months ago, there were calls for Mike Yeo to lose his job as head coach of the Minnesota Wild.
“Everything” was wrong with the struggling Wild at that time, according to Yeo. His temper got the best of him in a tirade that got caught on video and, of course, made its way onto the Internet.
On Jan. 7, the Wild was 11th in the Western Conference, and 2-4-4 in its last 10 games at the time.
That was in January. It’s now April and the Wild is in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The catalyst for Minnesota’s change in fortune? Goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
Of all the trades made this season, the Wild’s acquisition of Dubnyk from the rebuilding Arizona Coyotes could have the greatest impact in the post-season when it’s all said and done.
In a playoff-clinching situation against the Wild’s Central Division foes, the Chicago Blackhawks, Dubnyk was sharp again, making 32 saves. Minnesota got goals from Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, returning to the lineup from a broken clavicle, less than four minutes apart in the third period for a 2-1 victory.
That’s 11 straight road victories for the Wild.
Playing on back-to-back nights? No problem for Dubnyk.
The Wild clinch a playoff spot with the regulation win.
Since the middle of January, the Minnesota Wild have transformed from a team in despair to a team on a mission. Having superb goaltending helps, and Devan Dubnyk has continued his stellar play since being traded out of Arizona.
On Friday, the Wild managed enough scoring in the third period, despite playing for the second time in as many nights, to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes by a final score of 3-1. Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise scored goals less than two minutes apart in the final period to give Minnesota the lead, which it wouldn’t give up.
The Wild have won five in a row. Since the start of February, Minnesota has lost only three times.
The 28-year-old Dubnyk made 37 saves against the Hurricanes in what was his 23rd consecutive start. His current run is impressive. Then, look over to goals allowed, and he hasn’t conceded more than two goals in a game since Feb. 16. That’s a span of nine games.
The Wild move to 79 points in the Central Division.
Upon acquiring Chris Stewart from Buffalo yesterday, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said the 27-year-old power forward would be able to play up and down the Minnesota lineup.
To start, though, he’ll be near the top.
Stewart will open on a line with Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu, head coach Mike Yeo told KFAN radio on Tuesday. The Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line will remain intact, meaning the club’s other new forward — Sean Bergenheim — will play with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle (Bergenheim had debuted on the Koivu-Vanek line.)
It’ll be interesting to see how Stewart fits with his new running mates. It’s clear by both his and Fletcher’s comments that the goal is to provide a physical element and more size; it’s also likely Stewart will be a net-front presence and feed off the offense generated by Vanek (who has nine points in his last 11 games) and Koivu (12 in his last 14.)
“Adding my size and my physicality to that lineup, I think that’s something they’re looking for,” Stewart said, per the Star-Tribune. “I’m a big guy, a power forward, I have some pretty good speed and I like to play a hard-nosed game and get in the corners there and on the forecheck and create turnovers.
“It’s going to be a great challenge. I look forward to it.”