Alexander Shun | @alexpshun
Digital Content Manager | KFAN.com
By all accounts, the Minnesota Wild should have won game one of their First Round Playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately for Minnesota and the thousands of Wild fans that packed the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night, that was not the case.
After dominating almost the entire game, the Wild were out-muscled by St. Louis superstar Vladimir Tarasenko who set up the game-winning goal with less than three minutes remaining in overtime to give the Blues a 2-1 victory and a 1-0 series lead.
Minnesota out-shot the Blues 52-26 and controlled the entire first and third period, putting constant pressure on St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen who made amazing save after amazing save while stopping 51 Wild shots en route to a victory.
"They threw a lot at me, but it's my job to stop the puck and give the boys a chance, and they scored the goal," Allen said. "[There were] a lot of shots from tough angles. I did a pretty decent job of keeping pucks away from their players. That's their forte, that's how they score. They crash the net and they have a lot of skilled guys that can make quick plays in front of the net, so we're going to expect the same and hopefully it goes well Friday."
While Allen's performance was the obvious one to pinpoint as the catalyst for the Blues game one win, the unsung hero of the night was Tarasenko.
After receiving a pass from Jaden Schwartz, the Blues winger spun and got position on Mikko Koivu while driving to the net. Working the puck to the front of the net, Tarasenko went down but while doing so managed to slide the puck out front to a waiting Joel Edmundson who laced a shot past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk stick side to give St. Louis the win.
Minnesota should have won the game multiple times over but were on the wrong end of many bad breaks including missed breakaways, fanned one-time shots, a surefire goal stopped by the stick of Zach Parise, a wide open net that was missed due to Charlie Coyle shattering his stick on the shot and, of course, multiple spectacular saves by Allen.
A game like the one witnessed Wednesday night between the Wild and the Blues truly epitomized what the series will be about: Minnesota's depth against a Blues' superstar.
Entering the series it was well documented that the Wild were a team that was four lines deep, one capable of scoring with almost any players on the ice as well as stopping almost any team at any time, whereas the Blues had ridden their superstar in Tarasenko, their goaltender in Allen, their top-notch penalty kill and a refreshed mindset under new Head Coach Mike Yeo from a disappointing season to a playoff berth; drastically different teams that have taken drastically different paths to get to this point. Now those differences will be the keys to which team wins this series.
The Blues have a bona-fide star in Tarasenko who notched 75 total points (10th-most in the league) including 39 goals (tied for fourth-most in the league) and 36 assists. He has become one of the most complete and dynamic players in the NHL and can single-handedly take over a game at any point. St. Louis does boast a lot of other very good players, but Tarasenko is the clear leader and obvious star of the group.
The Wild, on the other hand, don't have quite that caliber of player.
Their leading goal-scorer (Eric Staal) netted just 28 on the season and their points leader (Mikael Granlund) tallied 69, yet, the Wild had four players score 20+ goals and five players tally 50+ points. Minnesota relies on their balance and their defense - particularly Dubnyk, their All-Star goaltender who racked up 40 wins on the season - to win hockey games.
Lacking that one superstar player that stands out above the rest didn't seem to bother Minnesota all season as they earned franchise records in both wins and points this season, but will it hurt them in the playoffs?
In a tight game last night, Tarasenko took over and set up the game-winning goal for St. Louis after Minnesota had continued a flurry of strong chances from a number of different players.
Containing the St. Louis winger was the focus before the series started and Minnesota did a great job of doing so during regulation - Ryan Suter shadowed Tarasenko for a great deal of the game - but allowed him to work his magic late in the overtime period.
So which is better to have: A superstar like the Blues have in Tarasenko or the depth that the Wild boast?
Tarasenko and his stardom shined bright in game one, but there are six games remaining and, as Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said Wednesday night after his team's game one loss, "You've got to win four, and it's a long series."