My, oh my how the tables have turned. A couple years ago it was the Blues in flustered, desperation mode and now the script has been flipped.
This is not the time to think negative thoughts. The St. Louis Blues are completely capable of doing something monumentally terrible for the franchise, but right now it does not seem likely at all.
The Blues have worked their way to a 3-0 series lead on the Minnesota Wild. That is surprising in and of itself, but even more so when you take into account the Wild’s regular season.
Minnesota was the best team in the league for brief periods and the best team in the Western Conference for most of the season. It was only a bad month or two down the stretch that allowed the Chicago Blackhawks to overtake them.
Even with their spring swoon, the Wild were dangerous coming into the playoffs. They had the most even strength goals in the NHL and the second most goals overall.
Additionally, they were pretty good defensively. Only five of the 16 playoff teams allowed fewer goals than the Wild did.
Now, some of that can be attributed to the stellar play of Devan Dubnyk. Still, any goaltender will say they are only as good as their defense (whether that is true or not).
With all that said, nobody – even the most diehard Blues fan – would have legitimately thought St. Louis would be on the verge of a sweep. A 2-1 series lead would have been a dream. Most pragmatic people would’ve said the Blues would be down 1-2 with a chance to even the series in Game 4.
Instead, the Blues have done almost everything right. That has led to the Wild feeling helpless and frustrated.
For Blues fans, that’s a familiar feeling. While St. Louis did not get swept, it seemed like nothing at all was going right in 2015 against Minnesota.
Dubnyk was owning the nets. Minnesota was taking away any and every passing lane and clogging the neutral zone like they had an extra skater.
It was painful to watch. Minnesota was the wild card and the Blues won the division.
Now, the tables have turned. St. Louis was supposed to be the underdog taking on the unstoppable offensive dynamo.
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Instead, the Blues have snaked their way into the heads of Minnesota like those nasty worms from Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. The Wild can say it is not true, but Bruce Boudreau proved it.
The Minnesota coach became irritated with the media and somewhat stormed out when he was done. He answered questions, but you could tell he was trying to deflect.
“If you’re looking for me to criticize our team, it’s not going to happen,” Boudreau said. “We were friggin’ good tonight, and we didn’t get the breaks. Quit trying to put words in our mouths that make us look like we’re bad because we’re not.”
His statements are true. Minnesota has never looked bad, but you don’t normally hear those comments from professionals.
The Blues, or more particularly Jake Allen, are in Minnesota’s head. Allen has now turned aside 114 of 117 shots in three games and plenty have been Grade-A chances.
It is interesting to see the shoe on the other foot. Perhaps it is a Minnesota thing. Mike Yeo got known for his fiery press conference both during the Blues series back in 2015 and the following failure against Chicago. Now it is Boudreau and his team with the puzzled looks.
The Wild just don’t know what to do now. “We aren’t playing bad,” Ryan Suter said with dejection in his voice. “We just can’t score right now. If we can find a way to score a goal, I think it’s a different game. We have chances. Obviously chances aren’t good enough.”
That sounds very familiar. The Blues have been the ones in the past giving the head scratching post game comments where they just can’t figure it out. Now the Blues and Allen have all the answers and Minnesota is feeling around in the dark.
“I don’t know what it is,” Mikko Koivu said. “Well, it’s obvious that it’s offense. We can’t find any holes there right now. We have to figure that out soon. You know what we’re trying to do things, trying to find holes to get there. He’s playing good.”
St. Louis may or may not sweep, but it would be a monumental failure to lose at this point. Not only because of the 3-0 advantage, but the mental state you have your opponent in.
When teams are that perplexed about what to do and being owned by one player, you have to capitalize.
Even if you allow the Wild a faint glimmer of hope, it must be snuffed out entirely quickly after.
The thing the Blues have on their side now is they have gotten better every single game. They have relied less on Allen every game too.
Regardless of shot counts, the Blues have not needed the Snake to stand on his head in a Game 1 type performance every night. They’ve needed him to be great, but not superhuman.
Were the Blues playing opossum in Minnesota? I still doubt it as a true strategy, but it seems as though they knew they could play differently at home.
Whether it is Wednesday or not, the Blues may have already won. Now, it is up to the team to jab the knife into the skull and kill them as Doug Armstrong so eloquently put it.