5 reasons the Minnesota Wild fell flat in Game 1
From a terrible night on special teams to a sterling playoff debut by St. Louis goalie Ville Husso, nothing went right for the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of a best-of-7 NHL Western Conference
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Wild played a Game 1 of a playoff series at home on Monday night for the first time since 2017.
Unfortunately for the sellout crowd of 19,053, the most excitement they had all night came in the 10 minutes leading up to the opening puck drop, when the Wild Game Ops department put together a pre-game lights and video show that left everyone with goosebumps.
Then the game had to start.
St. Louis scored just more than 6 minutes in and never looked back, controlling the scoreboard the entire way in a 4-0 win in the opening game of a best-of-7 NHL Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Game 2 is set for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. If the Wild don’t find an answer for the Blues on both ends of the ice, they’ll head to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 in a hole that will be all but impossible to dig out of.
Here are five reasons why the Wild fell flat in Game 1:
1. Power Outage
The Wild had three power-play opportunities in the first 12 minutes of the game. They had three more the rest of the way. They moved the puck well at times, had opportunities, but none ended up in the back of the Blues’ net.
On the other end, St. Louis was 2-for-6 on the power play — really 3-for-6, as the Blues’ fourth goal was scored just two seconds after a power play expired.
“We had chances, hit some posts, got shots blocked,” said Wild forward Marcus Foligno, who was playing just three days after suffering a knee injury that, at first glance, looked like it might knock him out of the postseason entirely. “Our power play has to cash in. We have to stick with it. Sometimes you have bad games on the power play, then the next game you score three. We’re a positive group, we have a lot of skill on our power play units. … We need to do a better job on the penalty kill, too, but we have to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net and I’m sure the guys will be ready for the next game.”
Wild coach Dean Evason was pleased with his team’s five-on-five play, but said the special teams struggles are like a broken record for this team.
“We have to stay out of the box, play between the whistles and forget about the crap (after the whistle),” Evason said. “We don’t need to do that. The penalties are avoidable. … Say what you want about our special teams, their goalie played great, ours played great. … That’s our whole thing — that’s our season — our special teams have not been very good. As of late they have been, but it’s off and on.”
2. Where’s Kirill?
Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild’s young superstar who set team records for goals, assists and points this season, had a couple of good looks early in the game on the power play. He moved the puck well in the offensive zone and had the Blues flat-footed. But after failing to convert on three first-period power plays, the Blues effectively made Kaprizov a non-factor the rest of the way. Kaprizov had four shots on goal in the first period, then just one over the final 40 minutes.
“I thought we did a good job on their high-end guys, too,” Evason said. “We concentrate on trying to do that against everybody. Their process was to get as many people on and around (Kaprizov) as they could. They did a good job on our guys, but we still had some good looks.”
3. Husso Hustle
On one end of the ice Monday night was a goalie who has won three Stanley Cups, brought a 90-70 playoff record into the game, and was acquired at the trade deadline in March specifically to start in spots like this. On the other end was a goalie making his first playoff start — a guy who was drafted eight years ago, but didn’t make his first start in the NHL until last season.
Minnesota’s Marc-Andre Fleury started his 155th playoff game Monday, while St. Louis’ Ville Husso started his 58th NHL game.
No matter. Husso was lights-out from the start, keeping 19,000 fans who were waiting to erupt, quiet. He finished with 37 saves, including 14 in the opening period and 14 more in the second as the Wild tried to push back after falling behind 2-0.
“It feels good to get the win, for sure,” Husso said. “I was a little nervous before, like normally, but got a good start for the game and guys battled hard. The penalty kill was unreal, the power play was good, so it was a big win for us.”
4. Potent Perron
David Perron was no secret to the Wild entering Monday’s game. The 15th-year NHL veteran has made his presence known every time the team’s have met over the past two seasons.
Perron had two total goals in three regular-season meetings this year, after posting four goals and 12 points in eight meetings last season.
All told, that’s 14 points in 11 games against Minnesota.
Perron added to that total early and often in Game 1. The owner of 15 goals in 92 career playoff games prior to Monday, Perron scored three times — all on rebounds from low in the faceoff circle, after Minnesota failed multiple times to clear the zone — against the Wild and Fleury, giving him his first-ever playoff hat trick.
“For us to have success, we have to stay out of the box,” Evason said. “We really liked our game five-on-five, but we weren’t able to play all four lines — (Tyson) Jost’s line didn’t play enough. We need to be able to play all four lines and roll them all.
“Those power-play goals, the rebounds were right on their tape, Perron’s in particular. Right on his tape.”
5. Changes coming?
Evason was non-committal after Monday’s game about who will start in goal for the Wild in Game 2 on Wednesday. No one was blaming Fleury for the Game 1 loss — he essentially allowed three power-play goals, while getting little help from his defensemen — but Cam Talbot has been on fire of late for the Wild.
Talbot was 32-12-4 during the regular season and hasn’t suffered a regulation loss since March 1, winning 13 consecutive starts.
“Yeah, we’ll revisit it,” Evason said of who will start in goal in Game 2. “We’ll revisit the entire group. We have a lot of guys we feel can play and help us. We’ll evaluate, watch this game again and make decisions on who goes in Game 2. We have options, from goalies to defensemen to forwards.”
One obvious switch should come on the blue line, where Wild defenseman Dmitry Kulikov looked lost on two of Perron’s goals. It was a rough Minnesota postseason debut for the 13-year NHL defenseman, who finished minus-2 in the game. Veteran Alex Goligoski would be a natural replacement. The 15-year vet has seven goals and 21 points in 43 career postseason games. He had two goals and 28 assists in 72 regular season games for the Wild this year and led the team with a plus-41 plus/minus rating.