Given a chance to sweep the Minnesota Wild right out of the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues failed to give a sellout crowd of 19,791 at Scottrade Center any reason to celebrate.
No brooms were necessary except to clean the arena.
The Wild got goals from Charlie Coyle and Martin Hanzal and airtight goaltending by Devan Dubnyk as they avoided a sweep with a 2-0 victory over the Blues in Game 4 of their NHL first-round playoff series.
The Blues still lead the best-of-seven playoff series 3-1, with Game 5 set for 2 p.m. Saturday in Minnesota. Dubnyk’s last playoff shutout also came against the Blues on April 20, 2015 and he managed to keep the sellout crowd of 19,791 quiet much of the night, finishing with 28 saves.
“We had a chance to wrap it up at home and didn’t make the most of it,” said Blues goalie Jake Allen, whose clearing attempt led directly to the Wild’s first goal. “That’s a playoff series, though. We didn’t expect to win four straight games coming into this series.”
An extremely slow start by the Blues, who didn’t register their first shot until midway through the opening period, helped contribute to the defeat.
They realized the Wild would come out flying while facing elimination, but did not answer that energy level despite being at home with a friendly crowd and chance to close out the series.
Last season, the Blues missed out on early chances to close out both of their first two playoff series against Chicago and Dallas. Both series went to Game 7’s and while both were won by the Blues, that extra expended energy may have taken its took on them in the third-round loss to the San Jose Sharks.
“We just came out slow, I thought we were a little casual to start the game,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said, and his team was being outshot 10-1 at one point by the Wild. “They were taking advantage of that in the first. We got the pressure on them in the third. (The energy) was there in the third, it just wasn’t there in the start. We need to do better and be ready for Saturday.”
After scoring first in the first three games before Wednesday, the Wild grabbed a 1-0 lead toward the end of a strong opening period,
A rare mistake by Allen, who had stopped 114 of 117 shots in the first three games, led to the goal with 3:10 remaining in the first period. Allen was behind his net and tried to clear the puck along the boards, but Coyle intercepted it and quickly rifled it into the net before Allen could get back into position.
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was also in the vicinity as the puck found a path to the net.
“I just threw it up the boards like I usually do,” Allen said. “Luckily they had a guy there, not a big deal.”
Allen was asked if he felt the play could have been icing. The crowd voiced its displeasure with the officials most of the night in regards to what was icing and what was not.
“Yeah, there were some finicky calls there for the icings tonight on both sides,” Allen said. “Some were icing, some might should not have been, some should have been ... it was a different game from that standpoint.”
Allen had done virtually nothing wrong before Wednesday, entering Game 4 with a 3-0 record, 0.91 goals-against average and .974 save percentage. He allowed two goals on 28 shots, but failed to get any offensive support from his teammates.
Coyle was in the right place at the right time.
“Nice play by (Eric) Staal there to kind of force it and I just tried to put it anywhere close,” Coyle said. “I didn’t even think it’d be going in but throw it there and good things happen and it did.”
While the Blues entered Game 4 at home with plenty of momentum, they didn’t exactly blow the Wild of any of the first three games despite winning all of them.
“I don’t think it’s too hard, you know,” Allen said. “Get rid of the loss here tonight, look at what we could do better tomorrow, get a good practice in and head to Minnesota. We’ve had lots of success in that building, so hopefully we can have another good game this weekend and go from there.”
The Blues’ best early scoring chance came when rookie center Ivan Barbashev rang a shot off the goalpost with 1:02 remaining in the first period, a period that saw the Wild outshoot the Blues 11-4.
Minnesota nearly stretched its lead to 2-0 in the second period following a turnover right in front of the net by Pietrangelo. Allen was there to make a big save on Wild forward Nino Niederreiter.
That 2-0 lead for the Wild came later in the second period on a sizzling wrist shot by Hanzal.
Hanzal entered the Blues’ zone with speed, found a a lot of room to roam in the slot between Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester and then beat Allen with a shot to the stick side. It was Hanzal’s first goal of the series.
Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka had to be helped off the ice and later to the dressing room during a Blues power play in the third period after being hit by a shot off the stick of Vladimir Tarasenko. Sobotka returned after a few minutes, tested his skating, and returned later in the period.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau cautioned against looking any further than Game 5 on Saturday.
“Hell, it’s only one game,” he said. “They still have a tremendous advantage up three games to one. I think we can play a lot better still than we played tonight. It’s going to still be an uphill battle.”