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NHL on NBCSN: Streaking Wild look to finally beat Blues

Apr 10, 2014, 8:49 AM EDT

Barret Jackman, Mikko Koivu AP

NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The way things are shaping up, this could be a first round preview and if that’s the case, it might be good news for Minnesota.

St. Louis has the makeup of a serious Stanley Cup contender given its depth, great defense, and dominant goaltender in Ryan Miller. At the same time, the warning signs are there.

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The Blues have lost three straight games by a margin of 12-3 and that might be a case of problems catching up to them rather than just an ordinary slump. Since Jan. 10, the Blues have averaged just 2.25 games per contest, which puts them in the bottom five in the league over that span, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Listen to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and it becomes clear that’s not the only concern.

“We’re giving up power play goals and we’re not doing the job on the special teams,” Hitchcock added to the Post-Dispatch. “That’s my concern now, our special teams aren’t helping us. … That game within the game is really concerning.”

The team has also been losing steam as games go on recently.

By comparison the Minnesota Wild have been great lately and a lot of that has to do with, oddly enough, Ilya Bryzgalov. He’s stepped up with a 1.78 GAA and .923 save percentage in 11 games with Minnesota, including three shutouts.

After his infamous stint with Philadelphia, the Wild feel confident with him between the pipes.

“(He was) very calm in the net, making a lot of very tough saves look easy, a lot of loose pucks that were either redirected or loose around the net that he was able to swallow up and control and give us a chance to settle things down,” Wild coach Mike Yeo told the Pioneer Press after Monday’s game against Winnipeg.

The Wild’s top players have also clicked lately, with Zach Parise (19 points in 21 games), Mikko Koivu (18 points in 19 games), and Jason Pominville (17 points in 21 games) leading the charge since the Olympic break. All three of them have more points since the Winter Games than any St. Louis Blues player over that span.

On top of that, the Wild have eight players with at least 10 points since the break while the Blues have just five.

None of this changes the fact that St. Louis has a commanding 52-20-7 record while Minnesota wasn’t able to do better than a Wild Card spot. It also can’t be ignored that St. Louis hasn’t lost to the Wild since Nov. 19, 2011.

So the Blues clearly enter this game as the favorites, but with these teams trending in different directions, they are also going into this as a squad that needs a morale-boosting performance.

  1. getadealdonealready - Apr 10, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    With the wild all secure in the 7th spot, my guess is we will see Folin for the first time, maybe a couple other top end players get a night of rest, and no Bryz, but that is just a guess. I suppose if they feel the Blues would be a great matchup in the first round then it would make sense to put out the best lineup and try to win tonight, however I don’t feel the small lineup of the wild matches up with the Blues, and would rather avoid them in the first round.

    • clarke16 - Apr 10, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      Certainly one way to play it… In other situations, with different teams…this probably would be your best call. Not with the Wild. Not this season…

      The Wild have proven to be a very *streaky* momentum-fueled team this year. That’s not unusual for teams that are building on the upswing. Right now they are fortunately riding that mo–and gaining with it the confidence that comes with winning games against elite opponents when they matter most. That’s NOT something you intentionally dial-down. Not now–in your second-to-last game of the season…and not against the Blues–the team that brings the one remaining doubt in your mind that you can beat–especially when there is a good chance your first round playoff matchup will be against them… The historically streaky nature of Bryzgalov only just further supports this…and everything rides on him now…

      No–you keep strapped in with the peddle to the metal and do all you can to do further damage to the Blues’ psyche in their current swoon–and serve notice that this is a new Wild team that doesn’t take a night off for ANYBODY…

      • dwadholm - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:16 AM

        I agree with this…so long as you can avoid injuries. They have to figure out a way to beat the Blues and now is the best time to do it before it counts in the playoffs. Plus, and this is a long shot, but with a couple of wins they might pass the Kings in the standings and avoid them in the first round.

      • wannabebluesplayer - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:27 AM

        dwadholm, the Wild wouldn’t face the Kings anyway under the current playoff structure. The Wild are going to be the first Wild Card seed. They will play Anaheim, St. Louis, or Colorado depending on how this week shapes up.

      • dwadholm - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        Clarification – I wasn’t saying they would face the Kings. I said they could pass the Kings in points and avoid the Blues (“them” in my sentence) in the playoffs.

      • getadealdonealready - Apr 10, 2014 at 3:27 PM

        They can’t pass the Kings either as the Kings are in a different division. No matter what happens the wild finish in the 7th spot (1st wild card spot), and will face the division winner with the worst record.

      • dwadholm - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:55 PM

        I get it. The Kings are irrelevant. I knew that before your posts.

  2. purpleguy - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    Looks like the Wild isn’t exactly prepping for this game with gusto, since they are starting the back-up to the back-up to the back-up to the back-up at Goal tonight, as well as playing Frolin. With Backes out, this isn’t exactly going to be the playoff match-up. I suspect most Minnesotans will be watching the Gophers-ND frozen four game anyhow.

    • clarke16 - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      I support Yeo and believe he is good coach who generally has pushed the right buttons and made the right calls…but unfortunately this isn’t one of them. This could come back to bite him.

      • getadealdonealready - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. You play hard, beat the blues, and increase the chances of meeting them in the first round (team IMO they match up the worst with). You treat it as a day of rest and enter the playoffs flat it doesn’t matter who you face. It’s a no-win situation, bottom line the staff will do what they feel is in the best interest of the team, as their jobs depend on the choices.

      • getadealdonealready - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Clarke – look at the number of goalies that have went down in the last month, do you really want to gamble with the one effective option we have left in a meaningless game? With our luck in net this year, and the overuse of backstrom last year that lead to him not being able to play in the playoffs or be effective this year, I support the staff and the decision to give Bryz the night off, with that said it’s a good night to rest others who are in need of it as well, and play the last game like the first playoff game, even though there is no way to replicate a true playoff game.

  3. clarke16 - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    It’s a fundamental *play not to lose* approach, getadeal…as opposed to the whole theme they’ve ridden in the past two weeks to produce the streak that’s gotten them here–which is…we’re going to go out there and take this thing–let the chips fall where they may…WE control our destiny… Get out of the way–or get run over.

    Now the message shifts to: We’ve reached our goal. Now we need to be AFRAID… AFRAID that one additional game will make our goalie tired. AFRAID that one of our stars might get hurt. AFRAID that if we go balls out and really try to beat the Blues–and LOSE…that the whole ship will go to the bottom of the sea. AFRAID that if we win–we’ll have to play these guys in the first round…and we can’t do that because we’re AFRAID of losing to them.

    It breaks the momentum and corrupts the message that got them here. It says–some games are worth trying harder to win than others. It says–the Blues are reeling right now and this is the perfect opportunity to step on their jugular and prove to ourselves that we can beat these guys and not worry about who our playoff match-up will be–but we’re just AFRAID of two many damn things…so we’ll let them off the hook and let them beat us because, after all–it’s a MEANINGLESS game, right? Bullshiitt.

    It’s the ultimate sign of a team that still isn’t quite there… Champions play the game to WIN. Period. LOSERS play not to lose.

    • yetidad - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Agreed. Play to win. Don’t look to trying to avoid a bad first round match up. Momentum now means everything and those who gamble may win the bigger prize.

    • ThatGuy - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:21 PM

      Overreacting much? Bryz is a 33 year old goalie, who just played 3 games in 4 days and has started 7 straight. Dude needs a break.

      And its good to get Folin into a game.

      Still playing Parise, Koivu, Pominville, Suter, Moulson, etc. Not exactly tossing in the towel.

      • clarke16 - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:18 PM

        I’m not sure you understand how important it is this time of year to do everything you can to keep that spark of momentum lit and burning bright–especially with an emerging team like the Wild who have no history or tradition to fall back on to give them that juice…

        …and those who have played the game know that when your coach rests your #1 goalie–he’s sending a message that it’s time for anyone else who needs a breather–to mail one in, too. That means maybe you don’t need go down to block that shot and maybe you can get by this game with coasting into the back-check. You justify it by rationalizing that it just isn’t worth getting hurt in a MEANINGLESS game on the eve of the playoffs. It’s the type of situation where if you get two goals down–everybody packs it in because they have no confidence that if they do sacrifice and battle back–the back-up isn’t going to just let two more softies in…

        See the team’s performances earlier in the year immediately after Harding went out and Backstrom: Niklas entered the games for further reference.

        When you’ve busted your a$$ to build the mojo the way the Wild have–you milk it for every drop until the cow goes dry–not SHOOT IT because you’re AFRAID the cow’s getting tired… This is how teams who get hot–keep it going and win it all…

      • getadealdonealready - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:48 PM

        Momentum can be important, but so can health (mental and physical) especially at key positions.

    • tved12 - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:48 PM

      I typically agree with you Clarke, but not here. We’re not fighting for playoff position, why not rest some guys? As “ThatGuy” stated, Bryz has been playing a lot, give him a rest. Who’s to say they don’t still beat the Blues tonight?

      Also, if Yeo plays Bryz and he got hurt tonight, everybody would be calling for his head. Say what you want, but you know how it is here in MN. He’s got to coach for another day.

      Also, you said, “Champions play the game to WIN. Period. LOSERS play not to lose.” Sorry but this isn’t a new concept, there are plenty of teams who have won titles after resting their starters from time to time.

      • clarke16 - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:25 PM

        Tell that to the Indianapolis Colts from a few years ago, eh tved? 😉

      • tved12 - Apr 11, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        Lol touche clarke, touche.

  4. hosewater2 - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    Hey if it’s Minnesota Wild vs StL Blues, it must be Rivalry Night right NBC?

  5. muckleflugga - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    great discussion in here … both arguments have merit but i’m with clarke

    keep it rolling and keep it rolling hard … especially with developing and emerging teams trying to fix-on a winning personality

    if blues are caught out of rhythm, dating an ugly bi tch named ennui, put the foot on her throat with emphasis … and continue in every game forthwith until all hope is strangled

    but be prepared for a physical beating in response, especially from hitchcock where remedy for slumping teams usually means returning to fundamentals of the game … bang and crash bully-boy hockey

    adrenalin … the ultimate rush to chase those blues away

    [ please don’t yell by capitalizing words … tough on the old hangover … the habit blocks reading flow ]

  6. purpleguy - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    The issue at dispute here is probably how many minutes Yeo plays the big guys. Then again, it’s not like Heatley, Rupp, Cook and Frolin need the minutes to knock off rust before the playoffs since they’ll never see the ice after this Sunday. In some ways if he plays the big guns typical minutes with all these back-ups, it defeats both purposes — no rest and lost momentum.

  7. nicofthenorthstar - Apr 10, 2014 at 5:55 PM

    Clarke, you make a strong point and you make it well. Your concerns regarding the momentum of this team are legit and I share them. However, I disagree with your perspective on the goalie situation. Bryz deserves a night off and that doesn’t have to corrupt the message. Plus, should the boys manage a win with the goalie we almost signed for my beer league team, that might inject a little extra confidence.

    • clarke16 - Apr 10, 2014 at 8:15 PM

      …all I can do is hope you’re right and that’s the way it goes down, Nico… 😉

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