By Craig D. Schroepfer (@CDSWCCO)
Everything was in place for the Minnesota Wild to make a rally.
Minnesota played their best game of the series in game four, beating St. Louis 2-0 to stay alive in the series. Add in the fact the Chicago Blackhawks were swept from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday, the Western Conference was wide open.
The belief going into game five was that the Wild would finally win at home to force a game six and put all the pressure of the series on the Blues.
Instead the Blues found a way to persevere and bring Minnesota’s season to a sudden end.
Magnus Paajarvi’s goal at 9:42 of overtime gave St. Louis a 4-3 victory as the Blues wrapped up the series, eliminating the Wild four games to one.
As game five started St. Louis came out flying, showing no intention of playing in a game six.
The Blues controlled play through the first eight minutes, out-shooting the Wild 8-1. Goals by Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen gave St. Louis an early 2-0 lead and had Minnesota chasing the Blues once again.
Late in the first period, Minnesota was able to cut the lead to 2-1 on a power play goal by Ryan Suter. With that power play goal, it felt that if the Wild could find a way to tie the game that they would find a way to prevail.
That hill got a little steeper to climb in the 3rd period thanks to a Peter Stastny goal, making it 3-1 St. Louis. But as they have done throughout the series, the Wild were able to find a way to rally and tie the game.
A power play goal by Mikko Koivu cut the deficit to 3-2 with 9:22 to play. Then with 5:01 left in the game, Jason Zucker used his speed to freeze Allen on the rush and slip the puck past him tying the game 3-3.
From that point on the feeling in the building was that Minnesota was meant to win this game. Someone in overtime would step up and be the hero.
Unfortunately for Wild fans, that someone happened to be playing with a big blue note on his chest.
“You don’t get a lot of chances in overtime,” Paajarvi said about his game winner. “(Vladimir) Sobotka and (Jori) Lehtera really worked out a good chance for me and it was nice to see it go in.”
The loss brings a disappointing end to a great season for Minnesota. One that left players stunned and wondering what happened.
“It’s really disappointing. The last thing we are thinking about is how good our regular season was,” Zach Parise said after the game. “It’s tough to handle. None of us expected this. We played hard all the way to the end.”
This series looked anything like a five game series loss. Minnesota outplayed St. Louis for most of the series. The only thing the Wild couldn’t do is find a way to play with a lead in the series. The only game where the Wild ever held the lead was in game four.
Part of that should be credited to former Wild head coach Mike Yeo. Once St. Louis took a lead, the Blues took away the middle of the ice, forcing the Wild to shoot from the perimeter.
Minnesota didn’t make Allen work for his saves. Most of the shots on goal were right into Allen’s chest. The Blues defense also did a great job keeping Minnesota from setting up camp in front of the crease, leaving the Wild unable to cause traffic in front of the net.
As a result the Blues go on to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to face the Nashville Predators while all the Wild can do is reflect on a great opportunity that got away, thinking about what might have been.