In a strange back-and-forth series, the Minnesota Wild can close out the St. Louis Blues with a win in Game 6 at 2 p.m. Sunday at Xcel Energy Center.
But the way this series has gone, about the only thing to be expected is the unexpected.
A dominant 3-0 home win by the Wild in Game 3 was followed up by an equally powerful 6-1 road win by the Blues in Game 4. Staked to a 1-0 lead Friday by Vladimir Tarasenko in Game 5 at Scottrade Center, the Blues promptly surrendered four straight goals, including two in a deadly span of 1 minute, 26 seconds of the second period.
Minnesota won the series opener and since then each team has been unable to put together back-to-back wins.
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Now the Blues find themselves in a position they have become all too familiar with during recent playoff runs — on the brink of elimination.
“Win the next game,” was the solution offered by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “We’ve still got two hockey games to play. We’re not going to hang our heads here, we know we’ve got to play better. We’ll take a hard look at ourselves and get ready for Game 6.”
Fresh off a 6-1 loss to the Blues in their last game at home, don’t expect the Wild to be overconfident despite being one win away from advancing.
“Game 6 is obviously going to be a great challenge,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We have not won anything yet. ... I think (we’re) very aware that home ice has not been a huge advantage in this series. That’s going to be a great challenge; like I said before, that’s a proud group, a lot at stake for them so we have to be aware of that.”
How surprising did Pietrangelo feel it was for the Blues to be back in this position given their complete control in the 6-1 victory in Game 4?
“It’s the playoffs, it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “This thing’s going to push you right to the brink at multiple times, so it’s a good test for us to regroup here and bring this thing back to home ice in Game 7.”
Why are things so hard for a Blues franchise with only one trip beyond the first round of the playoff since 2002 and only two trips to the conference finals since 1986?
After the jubilation following Tarasenko’s sixth playoff goal in five games, things turned quickly when Wild defenseman Marco Scandella scored on Minnesota’s first shot.
It was a hard shot to be sure, but one that thudded off the glove of Blues goaltender Jake Allen and into the back of the net. Though it was only one goal, with plenty of time remaining to turn things around, both Allen and other Blues felt the goal sapped momentum quickly.
“We were playing so well,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We just looked like it was a continuation of the last game, but I thought the air went out of the bag a little bit when they scored their first goal - and we’ve got to probably look to respond a little bit different than that.
“We could have probably picked up Jake a little bit on that one. I thought we got a little bit flat.”
Allen was hard on himself after the loss. He allowed more than two goals for the first time in 12 starts and couldn’t be faulted on one of the four since it deflected in off the skate of Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Allen was asked if he got a clear look at the other goals.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I should have stopped them. Not good enough on my part. (We) played well for 40 minutes. Held them really to nothing. But we let them get 10 minutes of solid momentum in the second that sort of took the breath out of us.”
Meanwhile, Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk was regaining his confidence while reviving his team’s chances. Two days after being lit up for six goals on 17 shots, Dubnyk turned away 36 of the 37 shots sent his way by the Blues and was airtight after the early Tarasenko missile eluded him.
That included a pair of big-time stops on Blues winger Alexander Steen during the second period on the day Dubnyk was informed he was one of three finalists for the NHL’s Vezina Trophy. The award goes to the league’s best goaltender.
“It was huge,” Wild forward Charlie Coyle said of Dubnyk’s bounce-back effort. “That’s what he’s done since he’s been here with us. It’s nothing new to us, but it’s nice to have a guy like that to come up huge when we need it and keep it in the game.”
Counting the regular season, Dubnyk improved to 13-2 in his last 15 road games, including 2-1 in the playoffs.
Steve Ott said consistency and staying within the structure that has helped the Blues find success is a must.
“Absolutely, I put it on ourselves more than what they’re doing,” Ott said. “Obviously, they’ve got a good team over there and their goaltender played very well, made some key, key saves. We have to find a way to solve him. We knew it was going to be a heck of a series and now we have to go there and win a game.”
The Blues have scored 10 goals in their two playoff wins against Minnesota and a total of three in the three defeats, one of which was a 3-0 shutout.
“Look, we’ve got to score more,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to finish on these chances that we get. You’re not going to win a lot of games scoring one goal. You’re going to have to find ways to finish off those great opportunities because it was just us and the goalie three or four times there in the second period. Got to find a way to finish those.”