The only thing typical about tonight’s 6-1 beatdown is that when the Wild has a chance to make things easy on itself, we all know what happens.
“It’s not on purpose, trust me. We’d love to make it easy,” Zach Parise said. “That’s the way these series’ go. I don’t think anyone came into this series expecting it to be easy at all. I mean, that’s a good team. We know we have to be a lot better and we can be a lot better.”
But tonight wasn’t typical. If you look back at the Wild’s last three months, the Wild hasn’t experienced anything like tonight’s loss. The most amazing part of the Wild’s three-plus months without losing consecutive games in regulation, the most amazing part of the Wild only losing by more than a goal in the regular season twice since Jan. 19 was the Wild was in each and every game.
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.”
Many folks wondered how the Blues would respond tonight. After all, after a couple playoff exits in a row and frustration after Monday’s loss and media already speculating that heads could roll if the Blues get eliminated, maybe this team would go quietly into the offseason if the Wild put the hammer down tonight.
Instead, now it’s the Wild which will have to find a way to respond by winning at least one game in St. Louis after its worst defeat since the 7-2 beating in Pittsburgh on Jan. 13 – the day before Devan Dubnyk arrived.
The Wild was, as Parise said, “brutal” tonight. Sluggish, soft, sloppy. And Dubnyk didn’t help for a change. As tough as two of the first-period goals, the backbreaker that sucked the life out of the arena was Paul Stastny’s goal to make it 4-1 less than two minutes after Jared Spurgeon got the crowd buzzing with a power-play goal 1:41 into the second period.
Amazingly, coach Mike Yeo didn’t pull Dubnyk there. Dubnyk was finally pulled after giving up his sixth goal on 17 shots with 3:10 left in the second. Yeo said in hindsight, it was the fifth goal (not third or fourth) that he wishes he pulled Dubnyk on. But he was trying to get him out of the period.
Here’s Yeo from his postgame, which I didn’t make it to due to deadline:
Where’d it go wrong? “How much time do you have? Obviously, our start was not good enough. And you combine that with the fact they had a great start, so they were on top of their game, and we were not even close to on top of ours. Once they got up a couple, we got even worse.”
Any hint that was coming? “No. But quite often, that's the case. That's the challenge. You win a game, and then you sit around for two days. You have to try to collect yourself and get ready for that next one. It's not always an easy thing to do, but likewise, when you lose a game, that's our challenge right now -- how we bounce back.”
Yeo said the Blues “were much better in terms of getting up ice. They were definitely stretching us out tonight, created a couple odd-man rushes because of that, but they were outstanding with the puck in the offensive zone and made it very difficult for us there.”
Yeo said he thinks Dubnyk will “react great. I'm very, very confident in that, knowing his personality, just knowing what he's been through No. 1 to get this opportunity and how he got our team here. So yeah, no concerns about that.”
Yeo attributed his struggles “to a team game that was not even close to good enough for us.”
Yeo said the fourth goal is not one you want to give up when you have a little bit of momentum, but “you can't give a team a 3-0 lead. And it didn't have the feel of the type of game that we were going to come back. We weren't on it from the start, and it got worse. Normally, we're a team that I think we start well but we stay with our game very strongly as far as whether we're ahead, whether we're behind, and tonight we broke that, that's for sure.”
Yeo said, “As difficult as it was and as frustrating and disappointing as that game is, we're going up against the team that won the division. That's a good team. It's obviously frustrating not to be up 3-1; we had that opportunity tonight. But it's a pretty darn good team we're playing there, and now it's best-of-3. We've got a pretty good team ourselves, and I think we should get excited for these next couple games.”
Yeo said, “It’s hard to look at this game and look at what's tactical, because there were so many parts of the game that we weren't even close to being on top of our game and not even within our game. But certainly we'll look at that. In terms of what we're going to show the guys, we're not going to punish anybody with this. We know that we need to be better. They were great tonight; there's no getting around that. They're a great team, and they played an unbelievable game tonight, so we've got to find a way to get better at ours.”
Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and now has a league-leading five goals and is the first Blue since Doug Weight in 2003 to have multiple-goal games in the same series. Kevin Shattenkirk had three assists and now has a league-leading seven assists. David Backes and Patrik Berglund each had a goal and assist, Jay Bouwmeester was plus-4, Jake Allen made 17 saves and the Blues snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
The Blues’ fourth line, which had Steve Ott at his natural center position, got things started with a Ryan Reaves goal. Soon after, Parise fell in the neutral zone (one of several Wild players who slipped on banana peels tonight), Thomas Vanek, who has no goals in the series, and Charlie Coyle were late getting in the zone because of the confusion with Parise blowing a tire and Tarasenko redirected a Shattenkirk shot. Then, Dubnyk gave up a brutal one to Backes by not corralling Shattenkirk’s shot.
3-0 by the 10:06 mark
“We went from feeling awesome about ourselves, feeling like we can’t be beat after last game and then we get a little dose of reality tonight, a little slap in the face,” Parise said. “We have to be a lot better. We know that.”
Overconfident? Parise admitted they may have come in “a little cocky. We felt really good and rightfully so. We felt really good about how we played last game. I don’t know if we thought it was going to be an easy game or that they were going to pack it in. But that wasn’t the case at all. We expected them to have a good start and have a good push. I don’t think we reacted well when they got one. Not very good by us
It was sluggish at times. Just not great decisions with the puck through the neutral zone and they countered pretty quickly.”
On the Stastny fourth goal, Parise saidm, “That hurt. You get that power-play goal to start the second and give the crowd something to cheer about and then they come right back. It’s always so important after a goal for or against to follow it up. We tried to get ourselves back in the game there, but they got the fourth one. That hurt.”
Dubnyk said, “We know we’ve got better than that. I’ve got better than that. We all got better than that. We’ll get back at it in St. Louis.”
On if this is as bad as it gets for him, “I haven’t had to experience that here yet. Unfortunately done that before in my career (laughs). The thing about the playoffs, doesn’t matter if we lost that game 1-0, we’d be in the exact same position we are. We all know we can be better, I can be better and we will be.
“I have no question or worry we’ll be ready to go for next game.
“None of us expected this to be a sweep in our favor or a short series by any means. We knew it would be a battle and that’s what it’s turning out to be.”
The Blues said this is the game they need to carry into their building
“This is our game. It's not our best game. We can play a lot better than we played today,” Hitchcock said. “We've still got things we've got to work on, but this is our game. We're going to play this game and if it's good enough, we're going to put it out there, and if we win with it, great. If we don't win with it, so be it. But this is our game. We're going to play our game now. We're not going to chase it around the rink like we did the first three games. We're playing our game. We changed the way we used to be. We're playing it. This is the way it's going to be for the next little while. If they can match it, great on them.”
Think Hitch is confident?
Blues responded from a clinic by the Wild in Game 3. We’ll see if the Wild can do the same in hostile territory Friday.
The Wild has availability at the airport Thursday afternoon and then I will have to sprint to my flight, and then somehow write. So Rachel Blount may do the blogging Thursday.