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Blues lean on special teams, aim to keep controlling Wild

Sportsnaut
May 2, 2022; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek (14) screens St. Louis Blues goaltender Ville Husso (35) in the second period in game one of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues will try to continue their dominance of the Minnesota Wild when the teams meet Wednesday in Saint Paul, Minn., for Game 2 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

Though the Wild outshot the Blues by a 37-31 margin in Monday’s series opener, St. Louis earned a 4-0 win due to strong special teams play and a big performance from second-year goaltender Ville Husso. Husso became the first Blues goalie to ever deliver a shutout in his postseason debut.

Husso deflected credit, saying his teammates “made it pretty easy for me” by blocking shots and forcing the Wild into a number of off-target scoring attempts. In addition, the Blues were a perfect 6-for-6 against Minnesota’s power play.

“Today I think the penalty kill was the best of the season. … It’s really nice for (our) first playoff game, and we were right away ready,” Husso said.

St. Louis had six power-play chances of its own in a penalty-filled game, with David Perron twice scoring with the extra attacker. Perron then completed the hat trick with a marker at 12:34 of the third period, just two seconds after a Minnesota penalty had expired.

The Blues finished second in power-play percentage and fifth in penalty-kill percentage during the regular season, the only team in the NHL to rank in the top five in both categories. Monday’s game underlined the Blues’ big advantage on special teams, considering the Wild ranked only 18th on the power play and 25th in killing penalties.

“We just have to stay out of the box,” said Wild forward Kevin Fiala, who had six penalty minutes. “We don’t want to challenge them (on the power play) … I think it’s just we have a better chance to win the games if it’s five-on-five.”

Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek led the Wild with five shots apiece in Game 1. Eriksson Ek was also one of three Minnesota players (along with Matt Boldy and Jake Middleton) to hit the goalpost on shots during the first two periods.

The normally high-scoring Wild finished fifth in the NHL in goals and were shut out only once during the regular season.

Game 1’s result extended the Blues’ recent control of the rivalry. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, St. Louis is 12-1-1 in 14 regular-season games against Minnesota.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 of 31 shots for the Wild in Game 1, looking solid despite facing so many Blues power plays. It could be enough to merit another start Wednesday, though Minnesota has another quality goaltending option in Cam Talbot.

After missing last season’s playoffs due to COVID-19 protocol, Perron returned to the postseason with a flourish by recording three goals and an assist. Perron had never collected more than two points in any of his 92 previous playoff games, and the four points tied Perron’s personal best in the NHL, achieved six times over his 973 regular-season games.

Ryan O’Reilly had a goal and an assist in Game 1. The winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy during the Blues’ Stanley Cup run in the 2019 playoffs, O’Reilly has 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) over 40 postseason games with St. Louis.

–Field Level Media