ST. LOUIS – Finally, the Wild got an ‘A’ for effort and a ‘W’ in the win column.
After feeling it deserved much more in the first three games of this aggravating playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, the Wild staved off elimination and a sweep Wednesday night with a well-earned 2-0 victory at Scottrade Center.
After an upbeat team dinner the night before that included watching other NHL playoff games and enjoying some competitive Ping-Pong, the Wild played with a “now-or-never” attitude and finally got compensated for the hard work.
“We did what we had to do to win,” veteran Zach Parise said. “It wasn’t always the prettiest of hockey, but we did what we set out to do, which was come here and get one. That was the first step.”
For the first time in the series, Blues goalie Jake Allen, who entered with 114 saves on 117 shots, looked mortal as Charlie Coyle and Martin Hanzal scored. On the other end, Devan Dubnyk stepped up in a giant way during a terrific 28-save effort for his second career playoff shutout.
Dubnyk, who once led the NHL with five shutouts, had none since Dec. 20.
“We didn’t match their urgency early, and we don’t solve Dubnyk,” Blues veteran Alex Steen said.
The Blues still hold a 3-1 series lead. But the Wild, clear-minded with fresh legs after an extra day off, should have renewed confidence after two more days off heading into Game 5 at 2 p.m. Saturday in St. Paul.
“It’s only one game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They still have a tremendous advantage. I think we can play a lot better still than we played tonight. It’s going to still be an uphill battle.”
In a ruse to throw the Blues off his scent, Boudreau deployed four forward lines in pregame warmups that were different from the ones he used in the game.
The cunning coach, who was visibly and audibly uptight earlier in the day, scrambled everything and went with the publicized lines from Tuesday’s practice.
“When you’re down 3-nothing, it’s ‘all the tricks are out of the bag’ type thing,” Boudreau said.
After having to fend off an early Blues attack in Game 3 and giving up an early goal, the Wild gave up no shots in the first 9:57 Wednesday and only one in the first 18:09.
At the 16:50 mark, the Wild earned its first lead of a series that was 214 minutes, 2 seconds old.
“It felt different,” Coyle said.
With icing waved off, Allen strayed from his net and coughed up the puck to Coyle. In the midst of a solid series, Coyle buried his second goal in two games off the post and in from the right wall for a real-life Wild lead.
The Wild — 0-for-11 on 5-on-4 power plays in the series — couldn’t extend its lead to two goals on consecutive power plays in the second. But late in the period, only 42 seconds after a hustling Coyle stripped Vladimir Tarasenko on an odd-man rush, the Wild took a 2-0 lead.
Jason Pominville hit Hanzal crossing the blue line, and the veteran wristed a 34-foot laser low stickside for his fifth career playoff goal and first since May 7, 2012.
“Marty was a beast, I thought. Probably his best game in our uniform,” Boudreau said.
Dubnyk was sensational in the second period to preserve a one-goal lead and the third period, when he made four saves on a Blues power play. The Wild has killed 10 of 11 disadvantages in the series.
The Wild also did another quality job smothering the star-studded Tarasenko, who has no goals and two assists in four games.
“The whole team was great tonight,” Hanzal said. “It starts with Duby; he was outstanding. The whole team was just fighting for every battle, every puck. It was a great effort from everybody.”
The Wild looks to put more pressure on the Blues on Saturday.
“Well, we’re alive,” Parise said. “Just small picture. We got the first step going and we’ll prepare again. You’ve got to start somewhere.”