Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Michael Russo of Russo's Rants,
In a league where even the best teams get blown out once in awhile, the Wild was competitive nightly for three consecutive months.
Tonight, not at all, from the goaltender on out. Parise said the Wild got cocky, started to think they were unbeatable after such a quality Game 3 win, and that's precisely what Mike Yeo worked the past few days to caution against. It's why he said the Wild didn't dominate and had to move on from the win, etc., and it's probably why Ken Hitchcock spent the past few days pumping the Wild's tires incessantly.
But after this one, the Blues coach took a new strategy as his team regained home ice and turned this 2-2 series into a best-of-three with Game 5 in St. Louis on Friday night at 8:30.
“We knew how we were going to play yesterday,” Hitchcock said covertly.
Why did you think that? “It's between us and the players,” Hitchcock said.
“It looks like we've joined the tournament now and we're dialed in,” Hitchcock said. “We've got home-ice back, we're dialed into our game, we're going to be hard to play against when we're dialed in this. Not fun to play against.”
Game highlights are below...
from Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune,
Wild fans will want to treat Steve Ott as a villain. He’s not. Villains are frightening. Ott is more like junk mail — annoying but meaningless, and soon to be stuffed in the proper recycling bin.
If the St. Louis Blues were intelligent, they would be feeding off the talent of Vladimir Tarasenko. Instead, they are feeding off the idiocy of Ott, a supposed enforcer who plays like a child, holding sticks and patting heads instead of just once hitting someone square.
When Ott actually had a chance to help his team with a third-period breakaway, he lost the puck, then fanned on a pass in the crease. He’s not a hockey player; he’s a rodeo clown.
Sometimes Ott mimics a tough guy late in games, when the hockey portion of the evening has ended. Monday, with his team down by three goals in the waning moments, he jumped on the smallest player in the game, Jared Spurgeon.
For Ott’s next act of bravery, he will taunt a sleeping kitten.
Video of Steve Ott doing what he does below...
from Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
The Minnesota Wild gained the upper hand in this series by skating past the Blues 3-0 Monday night and taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven battle.
The status quo didn’t cut it for the Blues in Game 3. After surviving the first period in the lively Xcel Energy Center, they capitulated in the second period.
They allowed two goals and nearly a few more.
The third period wasn’t a whole lot better.
“They checked us really hard and they got us to crack,” Hitchcock said.
Added Blues defenseman Barret Jackman: “We helped them beat us. We didn’t stick to our game plan.”
“That was a tough one,” fellow defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “We got what we deserved.”
So tactical, personnel and attitude adjustments are in order. The Blues do not want to fall into a 3-1 series hole against a such a confident, skilled opponent.
from Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
The Minnesota Wild played fast and the Blues couldn’t quite catch up, falling 4-2 in Game 1 of this best-of-seven series.
This was not how Blues coach Ken Hitchcock envisioned his team starting the postseason. They controlled stretches of the first period but fell behind 1-0 — and then they fell apart in the second period, taking penalty after penalty, falling behind 2-0 while getting outshot 14-4.
Fans who were roaring during the stirring pregame presentation were booing as that frightful period wound down.
The Blues staged a spirited third-period rally, twice getting within a goal. But they couldn’t quite undo the second-period damage.
How could this happen? The Blues knew what was coming in this series. The battle lines between these teams couldn’t be clearer.
The Wild want to play with speed, breaking out of their zone with crisp passes and sending their forwards into the offensive zone with control. They are at their best creating scoring chances off the rush.
The Blues want to stay on top of the Wild defense, force turnovers with their forecheck and tilt the ice with sustained pressure in the offensive zone. They value puck possession, cycling the puck down low to create havoc and scoring opportunities at the net.
from Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press,
He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever come across -- smiling, polite and with choir-boy good looks. He's also a very talented and hard-working hockey player out of Spring Lake Park High School and Minnesota State Mankato.
Yup, he's a local boy and a proud former Olympian. Oh, and one other thing about him: Minnesota hockey fans hate his guts. Just the sight of him gets their blood-pressure rising and their pulses racing to dangerously high levels.
He's David Backes, captain of the St. Louis Blues. And he is Public Enemy No. 1 during this first-round series.
"I take that as a vote of confidence that I'm doing my job," Backes said. "That's part of the business, and I'm hopefully going to be Public Enemy No. 1 this summer. That's my goal."
The Minnesota Wild are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and it all started with a trade made for journeyman goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
from Michael Russo of the Star Tribune,
Back on Jan. 27, the Wild was buried in 12th place and 16 points behind the Chicago Blackhawks. This morning, at least for one day, the Wild kicked the Blackhawks into a wild-card spot, leapfrogged the star-studded rival for third-place in the Central Division and put itself in terrific mathematical position to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
With six games left in the regular season, that is quite an achievement when one considers how down and out this team was before Dubnyk came to the rescue Jan. 14. In the past nine weeks, the Wild is an NHL-best 24-5-1 to become the toast of the NHL. It hasn’t lost by more than a goal since Jan. 19, hasn’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 19-20 or consecutive games in regulation in 34 starts by Dubnyk (26-6-2).
Under Dubnyk, the Wild has outscored its opponents 104-57 for a league-best (by far) plus-47 goal differential. To be clear: 57 goals allowed in 34 games from a team that allowed 58 in the 14 games before Dubnyk’s acquisition.
“I don’t remember having this many games in such a short period of time,” captain Mikko Koivu said after he and linemate Nino Niederreiter each scored two goals against the Kings. “The last two months, it’s been a lot of hockey. I think this break will be good for us.
from Chris Johnston of Sportsnet,
Devan Dubnyk was a forgotten man when crunch time arrived last season. As a Black Ace during the Montreal Canadiens playoff run, the NHL seemed a long way off.
“I was skating with five guys,” Dubnyk recalled Monday. “Five guys that made me feel old.”
The goaltender was so far buried down the depth chart that he asked to go home after the second round to spend time with his wife Jennifer and infant son Nathaniel. Even when Habs starter Carey Price was injured in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, he didn’t second-guess the decision.
“I felt like I needed to go be a dad,” said Dubnyk.
He also needed a break after a season that saw him go from Oilers starter to Predators backup to Habs minor-leaguer in the span of a couple months. It was a precipitous fall. Dubnyk was beaten down and embarrassed.
"It was a big slip for me," he said.
When you speak with the 28-year-old today it's hard to believe he's the same guy.
The puck did go in the net, but not between the goal posts.
from Michael Russo of Russo's Rants,
... the Wild’s next three games are against the three teams that are all tied for the most points (91) in the Western Conference – vs. Anaheim, at St. Louis, at Nashville.
“It’s fun to play games this time of year when everything’s on the line,” Yeo said. “…Right now, this is where you make your money. … You have to find a way to play your best hockey, to go into tough buildings to win hockey games and pick up points and that’s what we’re facing.”
As the standings sit right now, St. Louis is first in the conference, Anaheim is second and Nashville is second in the Central. As the standings sit right now, if the season ended right this moment, the Wild would face the Ducks in the first round.
Parise said it’s too early to really start thinking like that, that the last 15 games is all about improving the team’s game, but “in the back of our mind, everyone knows the standings.”
“It’ll be a tough stretch of games. It’ll be good to see where we are at,” Parise said. “We’ve played some teams that aren’t in the playoffs lately, so it’ll be good to see where we are at compared to these guys (Anaheim) who have had a pretty good hold on their division lead for awhile now.”
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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