ST. PAUL, Minn. â€” With Jake Allen as steady as ever in the net and those big defencemen crowding the ice in front of him, the St. Louis Blues again stymied Minnesota’s attack.
All those misfires in the zone for the Wild added up to a wasted home-ice advantage.
Jaden Schwartz scored with 2:27 left during a disputed 4-on-4 situation and the Blues beat the Wild 2-1 on Friday night for a 2-0 lead in the first-round series.
“They’re not going to go away,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “But if we can get a little bit in their head, and more importantly for us start to find the blueprint of what we need to do to be successful and keep getting better as a group, then we’re happy.”
Joel Edmundson had the first goal after winning Game 1 in overtime, Allen made 23 saves, and Yeo devised another shrewd plan for his former team as the Wild had their shots on goal cut in half after an overwhelming 52-26 edge in the opener.
“We did enough to get the win,” Edmundson said, “and hopefully we can elevate our game a couple more notches in St. Louis.
Game 3 is on Sunday.
“Let’s face it: Both games could’ve gone either way,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So I don’t see why we can’t go in there and do the same thing to them that they did to us.”
Allen has stopped 74 of 76 shots. The Wild’s only goals, both by Zach Parise, have been on 6-on-5 and 5-on-3 situations . Goalie Devan Dubnyk simply hasn’t been as dominant as Allen at the other end.
Screened by David Perron during Schwartz’s deep shot from the slot , the 6-foot-6 Dubnyk didn’t see the puck.
“We just can’t seem to get a break at the other end, but we know that we’re more than capable of creating goals,” said Dubnyk, who made 20 saves. “You know, we’ve created offence, and we’ve just got to keep doing that. I think the danger is to start changing what you’re doing.”
Game 2 was feistier and uglier than Game 1, though the same late-game drama stayed intact. Charlie Coyle and Scottie Upshall were sent to the penalty box for dual roughing penalties, triggering the 4-on-4 and increasing the Wild’s night-long frustration with the officiating crew.
Coyle was pinned down by Upshall during contact along the boards and lost his helmet in the ensuing scrap after fighting back. Coyle actually sent a puck past Allen in the final-second flurry, but after the horn to punctuate the litany of near-misses for Minnesota.
Mikko Koivu’s deflection hit the post and Jason Pominville’s unabated drive to the net was denied by Allen, to name two of them in the third period.
“They’re defending hard. Their goalie has been seeing the puck well, and one thing they do well is they have five guys around the paint so it makes it tough for us to get on the inside,” Pominville said. “I feel like we’ve got to do a better job at spreading them out.”
With Yeo now directing strategy, using to his advantage nearly five years of insight into the Wild’s personalities, preferences and tendencies, the Blues kept up their stifling defence by packing those big bodies in tight. Their six-man blue line group, buoyed by the return of Robert Bortuzzo, averages 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
The Wild’s passing wasn’t as crisp and they didn’t buzz around the ice as much as before, but they were just as snake-bitten. Just a few minutes after Edmundson’s long-distance one-timer , Marco Scandella’s uncontested wrist shot banged off the crossbar. The Blues blocked 19 shots.
“It’s a good start for us, but the job’s not over yet,” Schwartz said. “We know the last two are going to be the hardest.”
NOTES: The announced attendance of 19,404 was the third-largest in Wild playoffs history. … Bortuzzo (upper body injury), who missed Game 1 and the last five games of the regular season, replaced rookie Jordan Schmaltz. … Blues rookie RW Zach Sanford made his post-season debut, with Jori Lehtera scratched and Steen centring the third line. … Parise has 32 goals and 38 assists in 91 career playoff games. … Edmundson, in 154 career games including 18 in the playoffs, has just seven goals. Three have been in the post-season.
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Dave Campbell, The Associated Press