ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild were built around speed.
Playing smart has been, and will continue to be, an equally important factor in their success in this playoff series against St. Louis.
The Blues are at their best with a grinding, combative style, and their attempts to goad the Wild into the rough stuff have so far fallen flat.
“We’re always talking about it,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “When something happens, you want to do something. We’ve made a thing in here, that you just smile and go have a good shift the next time out.”
The Wild played a penalty-free Game 3 and beat the Blues 3-0 to take the lead in this Western Conference quarterfinal matchup.
Blues center Steve Ott has been at the forefront of the agitation, accumulating 22 penalty minutes, the second-most in the NHL playoffs. The Wild’s disciplined response, though, has left their opponent as the one mired in frustration.
“Anger, disappointment, all the natural stuff,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, asked on Tuesday after practice about his team’s emotions in defeat the night before.
“There’s so much at stake in the playoffs. That’s what makes it so much fun. But it’s a pretty resilient group we’ve got here. We have to recognize not so much what they’re doing to us, but what we’re doing to ourselves. That’s the adjustment that we have to make.”
The Wild have the 2-1 edge largely because they’ve avoided adjusting. That’s their Game 4 plan for Wednesday, too.
“We’re not going to make a ton of changes here. It won’t be anything that’s going to take ourselves out of what we do and what we think we do best,” coach Mike Yeo said.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just making sure we’re focused on ourselves, focused on our start. Again, feed off the crowd.”
The Wild’s first line of wings Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and center Mikael Granlund were the stars on Monday, as Yeo used the home team’s advantage on shift changes to avoid matchups with the best checkers from the Blues.
St. Louis’ skill line of Alexander Steen, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko was on the ice for all three goals by Minnesota in Game 3.
“Well, I’m looking for it, but Mike won’t give it to me,” Hitchcock said, joking about the matchups. “We’ve got a little bit of an issue. I’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Said Blues captain David Backes: “They’re dynamite on the rush. They’ve shown that all series.”
The Wild have won three of the eight playoff series they’ve played in their history, but they’ve never held a 3-1 lead.
They’ve played well as the underdog in the past, but their ability to maintain momentum will be tested. So will their focus.
“I certainly would not expect them to carry anything of what happened last game into the next one,” Yeo said of the Blues. “I think they did a good job of responding in Game 2 of the series, and I would expect them to collect themselves tomorrow as well.”
Ott has become the public enemy of Wild fans for his antics, but both teams have largely dismissed his impact on the action. The crux of the story so far has been the Wild being too fast and too disciplined for the Blues.
“They’ve got a lot of team speed. They’ve got a lot of agility, so we have to play a game that’s different than theirs,” Hitchcock said.
“And when we get them in our game, it’s extremely difficult for them. But when they get loose, they’re awful good.”
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