ST. LOUIS — The Wild's best defensive forwards continue to be on the ice for goal celebrations, an outcome that typically means a checking line has failed to do its job.
But Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno aren't watching the Blues fill the net.
They're the ones doing the scoring.
"We usually play against the other team's top line," Greenway said, "and not only to go out there and not allow them to score 5-on-5 but to go out and produce."
Up against St. Louis' top talent in this first-round series, the "GREEF" unit isn't getting by with a passing grade. All three are acing the assignment, helping turn the best-of-seven into a 2-1 advantage for the Wild ahead of Game 4 at Enterprise Center on Sunday afternoon.
"If we go out there thinking defense the whole time, it's going to be tough to play," Greenway said. "We just go out there with the same focus no matter who we're playing. If we do the right thing in the defensive zone, typically we can have some success in the offensive zone."
That Eriksson Ek would be centering wingers Greenway and Foligno while sharing the ice with the Blues' Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko wasn't a surprise.
During the regular season, they were the Wild's cleanest line and one of the stingiest in the NHL, giving up only five goals at even strength through the 400-plus minutes they played together.
Still, Buchnevich, Thomas and Tarasenko were a formidable test; aside from finishing one through three in scoring for the Blues, with Buchnevich and Tarasenko reaching the 30-goal mark, they entered the Stanley Cup playoffs on a mind-boggling run by totaling 73 points in 16 games.
Their tear, however, came to a screeching halt once the puck dropped in Game 1.
Not only has the line been responsible for just one St. Louis goal and five points, but Greenway, Eriksson Ek and Foligno have racked up more offense by combining for four goals and nine points. And the lone goal by Tarasenko? That came in Game 2 when he and his linemates were facing different forwards.
When they have gone head-to-head, the "GREEF" trio has outshot the Blues' big three 5-4, outchanced them 6-4 and outscored them 1-0, according to Natural Stat Trick.
"That's how we expect to play," Foligno said. "Ekker does such a great job down low disrupting their star forwards, and we do a good job on the wings and the walls to get pucks out. Everyone's been doing a great job, but we know our best game is when we're really taking it to them in the offensive zone."
This isn't a novel concept, that the best defense is not playing any, but not every shutdown line has the tools to capitalize on that strategy.
Greenway, Eriksson Ek and Foligno do, and that's what makes their longstanding partnership unique. They have the puck skills to finish plays, as evidenced by their goal output which included career highs from Eriksson Ek (26) and Foligno (23) in the regular season, and their smart positioning and effective stickwork facilitate their transition out of Wild territory.
Add in their size and strength, and they're a handful in front of the net and along the boards.
"That's the best scenario," coach Dean Evason said. "If you don't spend any time in your own zone, you don't have to check. You make other teams check. When they get the puck down low, it's very difficult to take it off them.
"Whoever they're playing against, it's a task to battle them in our offensive zone. It's great."
In Game 3 on Friday, St. Louis was in control of the matchups since it was on home ice and had the last line change.
With that came the opportunity to get its offensive leaders away from Greenway, Eriksson Ek and Foligno. But that only caused "GREEF" for more players.
After Greenway scored on the Wild's first shot of the night (for the second consecutive game) at the expense of Ryan O'Reilly's line, Eriksson Ek tacked on another in the third period after knocking the puck off Brayden Schenn. Foligno assisted on both goals, and the Wild walked away with a 5-1 blowout and an edge in the series.
And those three's handiwork is all over both results.
"It's obviously a bonus," Greenway said, "but at the same time, we kind of go out there and expect to do that."