The St. Louis Blues were not facing a true must-win scenario in Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild. It might as well have been though, because the Blues just are not likely to win three in a row.
The good thing was St. Louis came out with similar energy to Game 3, but were much more under control. They were skating and going in hard, but not looking to take people out or end the game in the first couple minutes.
This put the Wild on their heels, just a bit. The Wild did not look fatigued, but just a half step slower than St. Louis in the first handful of minutes.
As has been the case all series long, Marc-Andre Fleury was giving up rebounds. For all the praise he has received, the Blues could have turned things around in both Game 2 and Game 3 if they’d have capitalized on Fleury having no idea where some pucks went after he made a stop.
They finally did so early in Game 4. Jordan Kyrou was the beneficiary of a juicy, loose puck as he gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 4:19 into the period.
St. Louis kept up their strong start, drawing a double minor and earning a four-minute power play. While the power play looked fantastic and wore down the penalty killers, they failed to score on seven shots.
That came back to haunt them in that period. The Wild set up their patented play, which is to drive possession below the goal line and find the man in the slot, connecting with Kirill Kaprisov for a 1-1 tie.
St. Louis got another power play on yet another high sticking call. Again, they worked the puck around very well and added another three shots, but no goals to show for it.
The second period was a lot of back and forth. The Blues still looked pretty good, but the Wild were like a shark just waiting for the swimmer to tire themselves out.
Every time St. Louis had a great push, they just could not seem to get that finish. On top of it all, guys kept getting injured.
While they returned, the Blues lost Niko Mikkola in the first and Brayden Schenn in the second. They also lost Marco Scandella for the game. At that point, I was trying to channel my inner Dick Vermeil and say the Blues needed to rally around Steven Santini and play good hockey.
Perhaps this all seemed to work (ok, not really). The Blues finally caught a break as they had a scramble in front and the Minnesota player accidentally kicked it in on the goal line to make it 2-1.
The Blues came right back down and Kyrou got his second. After two straight break ins where Kyrou passed it off, this time he made a beautiful move to get Fleury down and then backhand it in for a 3-1 lead.
St. Louis rolled the dice with some risky play late. They gave the Wild a very brief two-man power play, but essentially four minutes of power play time. They managed to kill all of that off.
St. Louis then failed to capitalize on a two-on-one late in the period. Kyrou passed it up again when he had a better look at a shot and the pass forced Ivan Barbashev to fan and no chance was even gained. Still, it was 3-1 after two.
In typical Blues fashion, they couldn’t make things easy down the stretch. They gave up a Minnesota goal less than three minutes into the third period. Jordan Binnington made the initial save, but couldn’t quite get it covered before the Wild jammed it in. There were calls for interference, but clearer calls have not been overturned, so it was the right decision to not challenge.
The Blues kept hanging on and created the odd chance here or there, but you could tell the Wild were coming. Brayden Schenn took a silly slashing call with eight minutes left, but the Blues killed it off.
The Wild were swarming St. Louis at the end of the game. It seemed certain they would tie the game given the five-on-five pressure, but their coach made the puzzling decision to pull the goalie too early like Craig Berube had the previous game.
David Perron scored from an unbelievable angle, along the half wall in his own zone to make it 4-2. St. Louis added a late power play goal for O’Reilly and St. Louis hung on for a 5-2 win.
The entire fan base was complaining about Kyrou passing too much and for good reason. However, while you don’t fault his unselfishness, you fault him for passing up good opportunities.
The guy was on a hot streak in this game. He easily could have had four goals in this contest had he been a little more selfish.
This was the Kyrou the Blues needed. Was he a little bit of a defensive liability? Yes, but the positives outweighed the negatives.
This was much closer to the early season Kyrou. He had the puck on a string and he was confident in challenging defenders. More importantly, he was strong on his stick instead of allowing weak pokes to knock it away.
His second goal was vintage Kyrou. The patience shown to outwait the goaltender, get the fish-like Fleury flopping on his belly and then slip it by was great.
The first goal was not as pretty, but it was just what the Blues needed. Kyrou was well positioned and St. Louis took advantage of a big rebound, which is something Fleury has done in all four games.
Cons: Power play
Don’t let that last power play goal fool you. The stats show the Blues were 1-4 on the power play and 25% is not too shabby.
The Blues wasted a lot of chances. It was not all on them because the Wild killed those penalties with strong positioning.
However, you just have to capitalize on those situations. The Blues had a four-minute power play and two other power plays in the first period alone.
They had tremendous pressure. The bottom line is they failed to score a goal and that gives a lot of momentum to the other team.
Even if you only score on one of those, the game is potentially on ice long before it happened. Instead, the Wild were in it until the very end.
For the first two periods, Jordan Binnington had little to do. He made some good stops, but if we are honest, he was not that much of a factor in the game.
St. Louis had only given up around nine shots through half of the game. It was that second half of the game where Binnington came up big.
He didn’t have that highlight reel save like we saw against the Boston Bruins a few years ago. Binnington battled though.
He took several shots off the top of his shoulders or his elbows where he had to fight to get a piece of it. On top of that, he was calm in his positioning, which is when he is at his best.
Binnington is not Fleury. He has enough athleticism to make recovery saves, but the more Binnington is moving, the worse chance he has to make the stop.
In this game, he was set and made the stop. The defenders did a good enough job of clearing rebounds or Binnington would get set again and make the next save.
28 saves doesn’t sound incredible, but plenty of those were gigantic momentum saves, especially at the end of the game.
Cons: More injuries
For a series that is tied 2-2, it sure feels like the Blues are on the brink. You have to have a lot of luck and stay healthy.
St. Louis has had some decent puck luck in their wins. They have not stayed healthy.
Schenn, Scandella, Kyrou, Mikkola and Justin Faulk were just a few of the names that had to go to the locker room or sat for an extended time on the bench due to an injury. The Blues seem to be losing bodies by the shift.
While lots of fans complain about Scandella, the thing is he can eat up minutes. The Blues started this game with seven defenders and essentially ended the game with four or five.
Scandella never returned. Scott Perunovich and Santini barely played in the third period.
St. Louis clearly cannot look past the Wild. They need to worry about the next game and nothing else.
However, even if they get past the Wild, it is hard to be hopeful for a second round if this many people are still out.
You don’t want to overstate this game or put too much emphasis on it, but this was a huge win. There was simply no way the Blues win three straight, so they basically had to win this game.
The third period was far too nerve racking. You give up the early goal and then sustain pressure for the next 16 minutes.
That’s rarely a winning recipe. As mentioned, it felt like the Wild were on the cusp of finding that tying goal before Perron got that empty net goal.
For the entire 60 minutes, the Blues earned this. They deserved to win and did not luck into it, despite what some might say.
Conversely, they better not think they actually won 5-2. That is definitely what the final score was, but this was not a 5-2 win in the traditional sense.
The best case scenario now is the Blues get one or two defenders healthy enough to return. The problem is both Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo both have upper-body injuries, so you never know when that will clear up.
Still, if they can get one or two of those guys back and have a gutsy performance again, they can re-take the series lead. They need to focus on staying tight in the first period of Game 5 and go from there.
At least for one game, we saw them gut one out and get it done. We’ll see how the next one goes on Tuesday.