The Minnesota Wild had never entered an elimination game with a series lead before Sunday’s Game 6 matchup with the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild took full advantage of the opportunity and advanced to the second round with a 4-1 victory.
After the Blues evened the series in Game 4 at 2-2, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said his team joined the “tournament” and were “dialed in.” He also said that was “their game” and that it wouldn’t change.
The Wild (4-2) were up to challenge. The Wild led for 77 minutes and 50 seconds of the 120 minutes in Games 5 and 6. They were tied for 39 minutes and eight seconds. That leaves three minutes and two seconds that the Blues led.
The Wild came out of the game in Game 6 and controlled play in the first period. Zach Parise got the crowd into it early with a sharp-angle shot that snuck between Jake Allen and post seven minutes and 14 seconds into the game. He intercepted a puck at the offensive blue line after Matt Cooke poked the puck away from Kevin Shattenkirk. Parise fought off a check from Shattenkirk at the top of the circles and got himself into position to take a shot.
“I thought when Shattenkirk came at me rather than backing off, I thought I had good body position on him and was able to get around him,” Parise said. “I figured I would at least try to get a shot or try to make something happen.”
Parise scored the game’s biggest goal giving the Wild a second two-goal lead one minute and one second into the third period by crashing the net. He beat Vladimir Tarasenko to the loose puck at the top of the crease after Brian Elliott, who relieved Allen after the Wild’s second goal, couldn’t contain a shot from Jason Pominville. Pominville and Mikael Granlund worked a pretty passing play to isolate Jay Bouwmeester on the left wing.
The Blues (2-4) were slow out of the gate and generated very little while until the second period and they were playing catch-up. T.J. Oshie finally got a shot past Devan Dubnyk through traffic and into the net to cut their deficit to one with 3.4 seconds remaining in the middle period.
“It would have been nice to go into the third with a two goal lead instead, but that’s a great part of this group,” Dubnyk said. “Nobody was upset between periods. We were still in a great situation and we’re playing good hockey. There was nothing really said after the period. Nothing needed to be said. We knew we had to go out and do a job.”
With the Blues pressuring in the second period, Justin Fontaine extended the lead to 2-0 at the 11:19 mark of the second period. Fontaine took a pass from Marco Scandella in the neutral zone and took advantage of the space Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson gave him at the blue line on the rush and moved to the slot. He slid a shot from the top of the circles between Allen’s legs to chase the Blues goaltender.
Nino Niederreiter capped the scoring with a nearly three-quarter length shot from this own blue line into the open net with one minute and 52 seconds remaining in the game. He took a pass from Mikko Koivu at the top of the circles and used the ice the Blues had vacated while pressing deep into the Wild’s zone to clear the blue line before firing at the open net.
The Wild will get third straight crack at knocking the Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs. The Blackhawks won the previous two in five and six games, respectively.
No. 3 – Matt Cooke. The Wild forward registered an assist and tied for the team-lead in blocked shots with three.
No. 2 – Devan Dubnyk. The Wild goaltender stopped 30 shots.
No. 1 – Zach Parise. The Wild forward scored two goals.
St. Louis………0 1 0 – 1
Minnesota….…1 1 2 – 4
First Period – 1, Minnesota, Parise 2 (Cooke), 7:14 (sh). Penalties – Stastny, STL (interference), 3:41; Fontaine, MIN (tripping), 6:31; Niederreiter, MIN (hooking), 11:14.
Second Period – 2, Minnesota, Fontaine 1 (Scandella), 11:19. 3, St. Louis, Oshie 1 (Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo), 19:56. Penalties – Jackman, STL (hooking), 5:29; Cooke, MIN (embellishment), 5:29.
Third Period – 3, Minnesota, Parise 3 (Pominville, Granlund), 1:01. 4, Minnesota, Niederreiter 3 (Koivu), 18:08 (en). Penalties – None.
Shots on goal – St. Louis 4-15-12 31. Minnesota 10-7-4 21.
Goalies – St. Louis, Allen (11-13), Elliott (6-7). Minnesota, Dubnyk (30-31). Referees – Francois St. Laurent, Kevin Pollock. Linesmen – Steve Miller, Ryan Galloway.