The same St. Louis Blues team that routed Minnesota 6-1 on the road two days earlier returned home to Scottrade Center on Friday looking to grab the upper-hand in their first-round playoff series.
Everything seemed to follow a positive script early on as Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko fired off his sixth goal in five games to give his team a 1-0 lead at 8:04 of opening period. But just over three minutes later, this twisting, turning series took a menacing path to the south for the Blues as the Wild tied it and went on to post a 4-1 victory.
Despite being outshot 8-0 at the time, the Wild finally got one on net and ended up tying the game 1-1. Minnesota defenseman Marco Scandella got off a shot from the left circle that hit the glove of Blues goaltender Jake Allen, then deflected into the net.
“That should never go in,” said Allen, who later was asked how he felt about the Blues’ quick start. “Yeah, guys played great. I should never let that goal in. Maybe it took a little bit out of us. It’s completely embarrassing on my part, but the guys had a great start.”
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Even with the early goal allowed by Allen, the Blues seemed unable to generate much during a struggling second period. Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk had a lot to do with that, robbing Blues winger Alexander Steen twice on a pair of high-quality chances on the way to a 36-save night.
It was all downhill from there for the Blues, who were unable to sustain the momentum they had brought back from Minnesota following such a strong performance on Wednesday. The Wild scored twice in the second period and tacked on another in the third, silencing the sellout crowd of 19,653 at Scottrade Center.
Allen allowed four goals on 19 shots in his first sub-par outing of the postseason as the Blues outshot the Wild 37-19.
The come-from-behind victory gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 6 set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Minnesota and the Blues hoping to avoid a third straight first-round playoff exit. In each of those previous two series, the Blues had a 2-0 series lead before losing the next four games — but dropped Game 5 in each of them to the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
In the 20 times the Blues have trailed a best-of-seven playoff series 3-2, they have forced Game 7 on nine occasions.
Scandella’s tying goal came just over three minutes after the Tarasenko goal had fired up another sellout crowd at Scottrade Center, igniting visions of an elusive first-round playoff win.
Jaden Schwartz carved his way through a pair of defenders and got the puck to Steen, who set up Tarasenko near the net.
It was Tarasenko’s sixth goal on nine shots in the series and gave him 10 goals in his last 11 playoff games.
Dubynk, chased from the net in Game 4 when he allowed six goals on 17 shots, made several tough stops in the opening period to keep his team close. He stopped 36 of 37 shots on the night.
Asked what the Blues need to do to bring this series back to St. Louis for Game 7, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo did not hesitate.
“Play our game. Keep the foot on the gas the whole game,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re taking our foot off the pedal in the second period and it’s killing us. When we’re playing our game in the first and especially the third there, we’re not giving up many opportunities.”
The Blues allowed three shots in the first and third periods, but were ultimately done in by their haphazard play in the second period.
Being outshot 8-0 early, the Wild scored on their first shot of the night when a blast from the left faceoff circle by Scandella deflected in off the glove of Allen 11:06 into the first period. Allen allowed only six goals in the first four games of the series, but this was one he would have liked to have back.
Friday marked the first time Allen had allowed more than two goals in his last 12 starts. He began the night with a 1.51 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in the playoffs.
The Blues outshot the Wild 12-3 in the first period.
Instead of being awed by falling behind quickly on the road, the Wild kept working hard and managed to turn things around quickly during a strong second period as they grabbed a 3-1 lead.
Dubnyk gave his team another shot of momentum early in the second period when he kicked out a shot by Steen after Steen had walked right around Scandella. Steen was robbed again later in the second period, with defenseman Jared Spurgeon throwing out his stick to possibly give Dubnyk an extra second of time to make a sprawling stop frmo an awkward position.
“I don’t like being in that position very much,” Dubnyk said. “Some guys are good at doing that. I’m not Dominik Hasek.”
Steen talked about how he saw both chances develop.
“The first one, I feel like I picked my spot pretty good but he gets a little piece on the blocker and then it hits his pad,” Steen said.
And the more difficult second save made by Dubnyk?
“The second one, coming around the net like that, it’s a tough angle,” Steen said. “He kind of slid over, so I wanted to make sure I got it up. Desperation play, got a little piece of that one too.”
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo talked about the importance of seeing Dubnyk bounce back from a nightmarish six-goal outing two days earlier —and keeping the Blues from regaining some life.
“Obviously when you’re on the bench your heart kind of sinks because you see the play develop and think it’s in your net,” Yeo said of Steen’s second shot. “You think you’re going to be trailing, all of a sudden you’re going the other way on a rush, it’s a big lift for your group. No question about that.”
Former Blues winger Chris Stewart set up the go-ahead goal by Nino Niederreiter at 14:56 of the scond period, circling his way around Blues defenseman Zbynek Michalek before making a centering pass. Niederreiter’s shot appeared to hit the post and bounce in.
Minnesota made it 3-1 less than two minutes later when a centering pass from the corner by Mikko Koivu headed for Stewart in front deflected into the net off the skate of Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Koivu’s power-play goal was the fourth in the series by a Wild team that had the NHL’s 27th-ranked power-play during the regular season (15.9 percent).
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock seemed a bit prophetic when asked about the close nature of the series, which had featured both teams going 1-1 in the other’s building before Friday.
“Both teams are so evenly matched, both teams have so many good players, and they’re good players are so significant to the success of their franchise...I just look at it as a hell of a competition and the one little advantage we got back was home ice,” Hitchcock said Friday morning. “We’ve got to take advantage of that.”
The Blues failed to do so as the series continued its pattern of each team trading wins back and forth.
“Both teams’ concern is the reaction to winning,” Hitchcock said. “We played a good game in Game 2 and came back with a poor performance in Game 3, which was our concern. They won Game 3; they played great in Game 3 and they probably would have liked to have Game 4 back.
“You’re putting so much into these games ... you get a win, it’s almost like a relief emotionally and then to get your team cranked up and play again. It’s a challenge for both coaches.”
It seems like a simple process, but both teams have had trouble sustaining momentum.
“That’s playoff hockey,” he said. “It’s easy to get motivated after you lose, it’s what you do after you win. You’d think it would be the opposite, but it’s just they pour so much into it it’s more of a relief when it’s over.”