The team that started the Stanley Cup playoffs with the lowest odds to win it all was returning to its home arena with a 2-0 series lead. On an Easter Sunday afternoon, the Blues had a chance, with a win in Game 3, to effectively take the wind out of the Wild sails in the series. They needed to keep the throttle down, or in the now-famous words of Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, “when you have a team down 2-0, you need to take the knife and jam it through their eye into their brain and kill them.”
Yeah, something like that.
After swiping two in a row up north, the Blues returned home to come out of the gate in Game 3 with the exact kind of intensity Armstrong prescribed back in 2014 after the Blues blew a 2-0 series lead to the Blackhawks, losing four straight. After the Wild outplayed the Blues in most every aspect of the sport save for goaltending in the first two games, the Blues weren’t looking to steal another win–they wanted to dominate one.
Propelled by an excellent opening period, the Blues were energized throughout a 3-1 Game 3 win over the Wild Sunday at Scottrade Center. Blues fans didn’t have to wait long to erupt Berglund carried the puck deep into the offensive zone before dishing to a waiting Colton Parayko. The defenseman buried it into the top right corner.
“He does everything well, especially shoot the puck,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said of Parayko. “He doesn’t need much space to beat the goalie. That was one heck of a shot to kind of get us going there.”
With an early lead, St. Louis defaulted into a more cautious approach at times during the second period, resulting in Minnesota grabbing tying goal. St. Louis outshot the Wild 15-9 in the first period, but allowed Minnesota to creep back into the game with a safer approach.
“Maybe there were a couple of times tonight where we backed off just a little bit and gave them some life,” David Perron said. “But that’s fine: we got back on the horse. We pushed back after their big push, and that’s what playoffs is. We expect them to come out hard next game, nothing different.”
Though the team wasn’t as aggressive offensively, the Blues remained stout behind the blues line. Each time the Wild found momentary open space in the offensive zone, the Blues defense swarmed. Minnesota began forcing the issue more prominently early in the second period, but the Blues surrendered few robust scoring chances. The wild goal in the second came off a rebound that Jake Allen couldn’t quite secure.
It was the only mistake he had all day. Allen hadn’t allowed a single five-on-five goal in the series until Charlie Coyle put back a rebound to tie the game in the second period Sunday. Allen still made 40 saves to carry the Blues to another win, with goals at a premium on the playoff stage. After Game 3, Allen has recorded 114 saves on 117 shots after three games in the series–essentially putting the Blues on his back.
“I’m in the same boat,” Parayko agreed with his teammate Pietrangelo, who said he was running out of words to describe Allen’s dominance of late. “I keep saying unbelievable, (using) the best words, I guess. He’s been phenomenal. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to be apart of, and it’s good to see him doing so well, because he is a great goalie.”
With the game tied on Coyle’s goal in the second, the Blues found a response when late in the second period, Alexander Steen created a scoring chance for Jaden Schwartz; after his chance at a goal was missed when he couldn’t square up a shot with proper timing, Steen looped around the back of the net for the quick pass to Schwartz, who floored it into the side of the net to regain the lead.
Though the third period was intense, and included power play opportunities for the Wild, the Blues held serve. Steen extended the lead with a late empty-net goal, and the Blues closed out their third win in a row in front of a thunderous Scottrade Center crowd.
A 3-0 series lead against a team that many national pundits predicted would dispatch the Blues–it’s a remarkable feat. Don’t tell the players that, though–they know all too well that it’s not yet time to celebrate.
“We’re doing a pretty good job of that,” Allen said of the Blues ability to not get too far ahead of themselves thinking about their position in the series. “We’re not worried about series, up two games, three games, we’re just worrying about ourselves. Again, one game at a time. We got one more to finish this thing off.”
In 2014, Armstrong lamented the lack of a killer instinct. Three years later, the Blues are one game away from achieving that kind of killer instinct–the kind that turns a lengthy, hard-fought series into a convincing sweep.