Blues playing shut-down hockey so far vs. Wild – STLtoday.com
The Bluesâ suffocation of the Minnesota Wild offense began before Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series and there is a direct correlation to the date.
It started on March 7, Mike Yeoâs first game against the club that fired him. He had just taken over the Blues, from Ken Hitchcock.
The Blues allowed just one goal to one of the NHLâs most potent offenses, and it came with Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk pulled for an extra attacker on a shot by Mikko Koivo from 86 feet out that skipped past goalie Jake Allen with 11 seconds left in regulation.
One month and two playoff games later, the leagueâs second-highest scoring club and top five-on-five team in the regular season has yet to score an even-strength goal against the Blues.
In taking a 2-0 lead on the Wild in the best-of-seven playoff series, the Blues have surrendered just two goals â one during a 6-on-5 and one on a 5-on-3 â so including the March game in which they allowed the extra-attacker goal, the Blues have gone 197 minutes, 48 seconds without allowing one when the sides were playing at even strength.
As he got set for Game 3 Sunday at Scottrade Center, Yeo said thereâs one simple reason the Blues have been able to contain Minnesota, which finished No. 2 in the NHL behind Pittsburgh with 266 goals during the regular season and tops in the league with 137 at even strength.
âBecause we have to be,â Yeo said. âIn those games there have been a lot of near-misses and Jakeâs had to be great. Itâs not like weâve found a magic formula that prevents them from getting to shots and chances. Sometimes itâs Jake, sometimes itâs a great defensive play, a great stick knocking a rebound out of there. Sometimes itâs a (penalty kill), whatever the case is, weâve found a way. But we know theyâre going to continue to try to pour more on us and we have to be ready for that.â
Though the Blues have struggled for offense themselves in the series, they have stymied Minnesota. The Wild took 52 shots in the Game 1, which the Blues won because Allen was electric, but in Game 2 they continued to bottled up the opposing offense.
Mikael Granlund, who led Minnesota with 69 points in the regular season, has one assist and just six shots on goal. Eric Staal, who paced the Wild with 28 goals, also has just one assist and six shots. Nino Niederreiter, who punched in 25 goals this season, has just two attempts. Both goals belong to Zach Parise.
âTheyâre sitting five guys when weâre in the zone, right inside the hash-marks and blocking shots,â Parise said. âThatâs something weâre going to have to figure out if we want to get some goals and win some games, weâre going to have to figure out what we can do better there.â
âWeâve been a great 5-on-5 team during the regular season, and weâve got to translate that over,â forward Charlie Coyle said. âWeâve got to find ways to get that puck through. When they play five tight down there, itâs tough. But weâve got to find ways, get some traffic, go to the net, get inside their guys and put in the rebound goal. Itâs going to come for us.â
Minnesota registered just 24 shots in Game 2 and the Blues blocked 19 others, giving them 40 blocks in the series.
âThereâs been more of a focus on trying to take away chances from the middle of the ice and around our net,â said Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who has five of those blocks. âTheyâve been tight games and weâve done a pretty good job of that.â
âItâs good positional play,â Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. âItâs good sticks, itâs finishing checks in the right position. No one is running around looking for contact, itâs taking whatâs given. Weâre doing what we can to limit them, and when they do get chances, weâve got a guy Jakie back there, whoâs been rock solid.â
The Blues havenât been running around, but their fourth line of Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves has been effective in getting under the skin of the Wild.
Upshall was particularly noticeable in Game 2, playing nearly 14 minutes and posting a club-high four hits.
âOh, heâs doing a great job,â linemate Kyle Brodziak said. âHeâs staying within his game and when heâs got the opportunity to be physical, heâs taking advantage of it and thatâs exactly what we need.â
And when Upshall ran Coyle in the third period Friday, leading to coindental roughing minors that created the four-on-four situation and set up Jaden Schwartzâs game-winning goal, Ryan Reaves was there to back up Upshall.
âI defused the situation,â Reaves said. âJust standing there was good enough.â
Reaves, in fact, had an encounter with Minnesotaâs Chris Stewart, his former Blues teammate. The two were in each otherâs weddings and Reaves is the godfather of Stewartâs son, Connor.
âGood friends off the ice, archenemies on the ice … thatâs hockey,â Reaves said.
âItâs not awkward at all, not this time of the year,â Stewart said. âThereâs definitely no friends out there. We both have jobs to do and thatâs the bottom line. I donât think (Reavesâ line has been) too effective. I like that match-up a lot and Iâll take that any day of the week.â
The Blues, though, are doing something right, suffocating and seemingly frustrating the Wild.
âWeâve done well up to this point,â Yeo said. âI think we got better at taking them away from their game… I think we can still get to our game better. We can put them under a little more pressure. We can continue to grow our physicality.
âComing back home and forcing them to deal with some of the things we had to deal with in their building, as far as the momentum, as far as the crowd noise, we have to find a way to make that impactful. I remember coming in here in the playoffs and this is an intimidating building and Iâve seen it in the regular season. Iâm excited for (Sunday).â
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