With a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, the Minnesota Wild put together a petty disappointing performance on Sunday afternoon in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Now, with the series tied 2-2 heading back to the State of Hockey, the Wild must quickly forget about Game 4 and be ready to take a 3-2 series lead in Game 5. Let’s look at some of the keys to the game on Tuesday night.
Wild Must Start on Time
The biggest disappointment from Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 might have been how the Wild began the first period. They looked like a far slower team than they did in Games 2 and 3, and Jordan Kyrou gave the Blues the early lead because of it.
Kirill Kaprizov did tie the game before the end of the first period, but still, the Wild should have considered themselves extremely lucky to have been tied after the opening 20 minutes, and almost all that credit should go to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Minnesota was outshot 18-5 in the first period, which is unacceptable. The Wild outshot the Blues in the next 40 minutes, so a stronger start in Game 4 may have helped the Wild have a lead after the first period, and who knows what the end result would have been in the situation.
The Wild need to be ready the second the puck is dropped in Game 5. It’s not the end of the world to be slightly outplayed, outshot, or even outscored in the opening period of a hockey game, but what’s unacceptable is to be outplayed to the level they were in the opening period of Game 4.
Wild Must Establish Strong Forecheck
One of the most vital components of the Wild’s offence is their ability to get pucks in deep and cause problems for the opposing team’s defenders. When they are at their best, speed and size make this offence feared around the NHL.
The Wild’s third line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno have built much of their identity around that style of offensive forecheck. However, many players on this team, including Ryan Hartman, Mathew Boldy, and trade deadline pickup Nicholas Deslauriers have the size and speed to cause significant problems on the forecheck.
Too often in Game 4 the Blues defensemen could retrieve pucks and make clean breakout passes with little resistance. In the games prior, and for much of the season, the Wild forced turnovers with an aggressive forecheck, and then cycled the puck until a scoring chance presented itself.
In Game 5, the Wild need to prioritize simplifying their Game and making the Blues defenders jobs a little bit harder from deep in their own zone. It won’t happen on every shift, but the Wild could benefit significantly from a strong forecheck throughout the entire game.
Wild Must Feed off Crowd
Every fan inside Xcel Energy Center will know how crucial Game 5 is, as the difference between being up 3-2 or down 3-2 heading back to St. Louis is massive. The crowd will be loud and full of excitement from the moment they step onto the ice, and they must use that to their advantage.
There are many advantages to playing at home, including getting their dressing rooms and getting last change to help make line matchups easier. However, another benefit is the fan support the players get during the game, and there is zero doubt the Wild fans will be ready to voice their support for their team in this game.
Therefore, it will be up to the players to feed off the energy and apply it to their compete level on the ice. The fan support is what makes home ice such an advantage to teams, and the Wild will need to use it to their advantage if they want to head to St. Louis with a chance to win the series, rather than fighting to force a Game 7.
Overall, Game 5 is a crucial game that will give one team a significant advantage in moving on to the second round, and possibly further. The Wild earned the right to have home ice in this series, and a win on Tuesday night will guarantee that it won’t be their final home game of the playoffs.
If they can start on time, use their strong forecheck, and feed off the crowd at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild could see themselves with a chance to win the series back in St. Louis on Thursday night.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.