Bye bye Blues – Game 6 in the series for the St. Louis Blues against the Minnesota Wild was a must-win for the Blues. Trailing the Wild three games to two, it was a “lose and go home” game for the Blue note, and they lost.
There may be a hundred reasons why the number one team in the Central Division lost to Minnesota, but of all those reasons, three are glaringly obvious. They weren’t able to stop the shots, they weren’t able to score and they met a team who wanted to win.
They Lost Because They Couldn’t Stop the Shots
In Game 6, the Blues’ 24-year-old goalie Jake Allen started the game — as he had in all previous First Round games against the Wild, and Brian Elliott was dressed and on the bench, ready to jump in and relieve, if he was called on. The Wild, as in most of the games in the series, hadn’t exactly peppered Allen with shots, but the two goals he let in were both bad goals. The first was a bad-angled shot from Wild left-winger Zach Parise (#11) while the Blues were on the powerplay; the second was another that should have been stopped, a shot from the top of the circle from right-winger Justin Fontaine (#14) that went 5-hole. Allen was pulled, and replaced by the 30-year-old Elliott, but unlike the goalie switches that had worked so fabulously the night before for both the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks — where the change of the goalies both stopped the pucks and changed the momentum of those games, resulting in series wins for both teams — bringing Elliott in didn’t help the Blues stop the bleeding of goals, or act as a spur to score. It took only a few attempts on Elliott before the Wild managed to score one on him and although Blues’ right-winger TJ Oshie was able to score a goal against the Wild after Elliott was put in net, his was the Blues’ sole goal of the game — and Oshie’s sole goal of the series.
They Lost Because They Couldn’t Score
The Wild’s goalie, Devan Dubnyk (#40) proved to everyone exactly why the 28-year-old is worthy of having not just a Vezina Trophy nomination, but why he might win the trophy itself. The Blues managed 31 shots on goal against the 28-year old, but Dubnyk saw everything they could manage to throw at him, letting the Blues by just twice in the last two games. Although the Wild had two losses in the series, Dubnyk really had only one “off” night, in Game 4, when Blues coach Ken Hitchcock changed the Blues’ lines once again to what they’d played with earlier in the season and the team responded with goals from each of its offensive lines. In that game, after letting in 6 of 17 shots on goal, Dubnyk was relieved of his goaltending duties and another Saskatchewan boy, 24-year-old Darcy Kuemper from Saskatoon, came in and saved all 9 of the remaining shots the Blues were able to make on goal.
Yeo’s January Meltdown: A Bawling Out That Worked
When the Wild’s coach, Mike Yeo famously lost his patience with his team at a practice in the beginning of January after the team’s 13th loss in 20 games, something happened to that team. In the video of that meltdown, difficult to understand because of all the profanities that are bleeped out, Yeo chastised his team for feeling sorry for themselves and having a loser’s attitude, hanging their heads and pointing fingers. He asked them, rhetorically, where they were in the standings and then asked them, with those results, how they could be on the ice practicing so poorly? Yeo was angry, banging his stick on the ice, as well as shattering it on the boards when he was finished yelling at them.
In a press conference after that practice, Yeo was asked about what had happened on the ice.
“We can hang our heads, we can feel sorry for ourselves, we can point fingers, we can do whatever we want, but those types of things aren’t the things that winners do and those types of things don’t help you get out of something like this.,” Yeo said. “The one thing that you can always control is your work ethic and attitude.” In retrospect, it appears to have been a bawling out that worked.
That was January 6th, 2015. It would be a made-for-Hollywood ending if somehow the team magically turned around immediately after Yeo’s meltdown, but it didn’t happen quite that way: the Wild lost four more times straight before they acquired Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes. Dubnyk, who had been chosen 14th overall in the 2004 draft, had been shuffled around the league quite a bit since the Regina, Saskatchewan-born player first made his NHL debut back in 2009. Although he was an Edmonton Oiler for five seasons straight, before becoming a Wild he was a Nashville Predator, then traded to the Montreal Canadiens who assigned him to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL before signing with the Arizona Coyotes for the start of the 2014-15 season. On January 15th, as the goalie for the Wild for the first time ever, the Wild won by a margin of seven goals over the Buffalo Sabres and Dubnyk had his first shut out of 2015. That was the start of the team finding its rhythm and finding its way to a Wildcard spot for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Of course, the St. Louis Blues wanted to win too, but try as they might, Dubnyk was a wall the Blues couldn’t penetrate, and the Wild, especially with Parise, had players the Blues just couldn’t stop. The 7 points Parise earned in the series against St. Louis has put him in 2nd place in playoff points, one point behind Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (#19) with 8 points and that will make for an interesting competition now that the Wild will take on the Blackhawks in Round 2.
Call it a Cinderella run, but the Wild are hot, Dubnyk is hot and they have been hot since January. And they’ll meet another hot team with Chicago, whose goalies have stepped up for their team in both Corey Crawford(#50) and Scott Darling (#33). Perhaps Chicago’s roots will help them fight off the Wild as the 2015 playoffs seem to be good for the Original Six teams that made it to the playoffs — at least thus far. Of the 16 teams, 3 of the 4 Original Six teams – Chicago, the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens – have all made it through to the second round and one more, the Detroit Red Wings, is still a possibility.
In any event, the Wild look ready, determined and have the kind of discipline a team needs to go even further. As they head for Round 2 on their quest for the Stanley Cup, the Blues will be booking tee times and wishing things had panned out differently and waiting for Black Monday, the first Monday after the Stanley Cup finds its 2015 home, to find out whether Ken Hitchcock and his fellow coaches have made the cut or will be looking for new jobs.
Bye Bye Blues.