1. Not weird, but odd
One of the keys to the game for Minnesota was needing to take advantage of a Blues backend that is really banged up.
Former Wild defenseman Marco Scandella didn’t play in either of the first two games because of a lower-body injury. Then the Blues lost Nick Leddy to an upper-body injury in Game 1 and Robert Bortuzzo in Game 2 when he blocked a shot with his face from him.
The injuries and uncertainty forced the Blues to call up Steven Santini on Thursday under emergency conditions. The young blueliner has a few dozen games of NHL experience, but he hadn’t played with the big club at all this season.
Video: MIN@STL, Gm3: Kaprizov banks one off Husso
Scandella was able to gut it out, but clearly wasn’t at full strength… and was on the ice for Jordan Greenway‘s goal just 39 seconds into the festivities.
And whether it was the injuries, the lineup shuffling or St. Louis’ desire to really get physical with the Wild, Minnesota was able to repeatedly take advantage of odd-man rush opportunities.
“I just thought we simplified. We weren’t trying to go east-west. We were just getting pucks into the neutral zone and skating. That’s the game right?” said Wild coach Dean Evason. “Everyone talks about our team being a physical team. Well, we can skate and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to push the pace. We wanted to skate. And we got some pucks into some areas that we could skate onto it.” and we got some odd man rushes.”
Greenway’s goal finished off at 2-on-1. Kirill Caprizov made it a 2-0 game less than two minutes later when he whiffed on a breakaway chance, but banked the puck in off Husso’s skate from behind the net.
Video: MIN@STL, Gm3: Zuccarello patiently picks top corner
Mats Zuccarello pushed the Wild lead to 3-0 at the 7:44 mark of the second period when capped a 2-on-1 rush by keeping it himself and rifling one by Husso.
“I think it was smart plays. Getting pucks out, having a third guy, coming back hard, tracking. I think the whole team today, tracking back, back-checking was phenomenal,” Zuccarello said. “Sometimes when you do that, you get a chance to go on a 2-on-1 and we got that today.”
Minnesota didn’t score off sustained zone time until Joel Eriksson Eck‘s tally moments into the third period made it 4-0 off a workman-like shift from both he and Marcus Foligno to frustrate and steal the puck from Brayden Schenn, who was again running around the rink.
Those goals gave the Wild plenty of cushion for when Ryan O’Reilly cashed in on the power play to get the Blues off the schneid a bit later.
Jonas Brodin would spoil a rousing St. Louis tradition of the crowd singing John Denver’s “Country Road” with 7 1/2 to play in regulation, burying an empty-net goal from long distance, sending Blues faithful quietly into the Missouri night.
2. More on the Big Rig
Greenway’s early goal came only a few hours after he was actually asked about getting off to strong starts on the road during his media gathering following morning skate.
“It’s always tough going into another team’s building in the playoffs with the fans and everything like that. For us, we have to find a way to not allow them to get momentum from it and kind of try and not give them anything to cheer about ,” Greenway said earlier in the day. “For us, just building off of what we did last game and just focusing on the little things that gave us the success we had and try to keep out all the external pressures and things that we don’t need to worry about keeping it not a distraction I guess.
“Sometimes I think different guys take it a lot of different ways. Sometimes you thrive in those situations where the other team’s fans are giving it to you or whatever the case is. And other times it’s great to know they have nothing to cheer about. It’s definitely something that’s in the back of your head.”
Video: MIN@STL, Gm3: Greenway opens scoring :39 into game
Perhaps the Rig has a post-playing career in fortune telling? Because he quieted the crowd just 39 seconds into the game by ripping a nasty one-timer on a feed from Joel Eriksson Ek.
And if it feels like you’ve heard that connection before, it’s because you did in Game 2… only in reverse, when Greenway fed a cross-zone feed that Eriksson Ek hammered a one-timer by Husso for an early lead.
This time, it was Eriksson Ek putting a perfect pass on a platter for Greenway and the exact kind of early start the Big Rig was hoping for.
“It’s big to go out and not allow them to get momentum from their crowd and being in their own arena,” Greenway said. “I don’t think I came out planning on scoring as quick as we did. But we definitely wanted to go out there and attack them as much as we can. And we did.”
The GREEF line continues to make life miserable for the Blues in this series. With the last change in St. Paul, the Wild tried to keep the group on the ice against the Robert Thomas line as much as possible.
Video: Eriksson Ek, Greenway Game 3 postgame at STL
But the Blues had the matchup advantage with the game in St. Louis, choosing to match the O’Reilly line against the GREEF line.
Less than a minute into the game, Greenway made sure the Blues pay for that decision. Eriksson Ek would do the same early in the third.
“Faced them last year in the playoffs and remember how good they were. They’re gritty, they’re heavy, they play defensively and everybody comes back to help in the d-zone,” said Wild goaltender Marc-André Fleury. “They put the puck deep, they cycle and they keep the puck there, create some chaos around the net. And they’ve been good, they’ve scored some huge goals for us.”
3. Turning the tide at Enterprise
St. Louis’ home rink has not been friendly to the Wild in recent seasons, specifically since Craig Berube took over midseason during the 2018-19 campaign.
Entering play on Friday night, the Blues had won all seven games played between the clubs at Enterprise Center since Berube assumed his position, outscoring the Wild 35-15 in those games.
Evason insisted that it wasn’t on his mind before the game, nor was it after.
“We don’t remember what’s happened,” Evason said. “Today we had success. We have to build for the next game. I don’t remember anything else.”
Video: MIN@STL, Gm3: Eriksson Ek scores 22 seconds into 3rd
That history certainly didn’t bode well for the Wild coming to the Show-Me State with the series tied at 1-1 and the Blues controlling home-ice advantage in the series, thanks to their Game 1 win at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota’s hot start and victory in Game 3 has put the home-ice edge back in the Wild’s favor however, with Sunday’s Game 4 here at Enterprise Center now giving it an opportunity to get greedy and make Tuesday’s Game 5 back in St. Paul a potentially series clinching game … if the Wild can duplicate its efforts, that is.
That won’t be easy, especially considering, 1) St. Louis will be ornery, and 2) The Blues remain a very good team, but especially in their own building.
“That’s a hell of a team and they’ve been good for a number of years. It’s a tough team to play against,” Zuccarello said. “It’s good to get a win here and get some confidence. But at the same time, this game is over and we are on to the next one and we know they are going to come out hard.”
- Minnesota’s five goals are tied for second-most in a road playoff game in Wild history
- Fleury was sensational, finishing with 29 saves
- The win for Fleury was his 92nd in his career in the postseason, tying him with Grant Fuhr for third all-time
- Eriksson Ek and Kaprizov carved multiple points in back-to-back games, becoming the second and third players in franchise playoff history to do so, joining Marian Gaborik
- Marcus Foligno had two assists for his first multi-point playoff performance
- O’Reilly’s goal was his second of the postseason
- Colton Parayko had the only assist on the goal
- Ville Husso stopped 28 of 32 shots in a losing effort
Dan’s three stars
1. Jordan Greenway
2. Marc-André Fleury
3. Joel Eriksson Eck
Video: Wild gain series lead with Game 3 victory