Entering Game 4 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday, the Blues had a chance to finish the job. A 3-0 series lead, and the opportunity to clinch on home ice–who needs drama when you can execute and quick, clean conclusion?
They just couldn’t make it easy, could they?
“Whether it was lacks of desperation or nerves, we were on our heels,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said after the game. “We let them dictate–not a good recipe.”
The Blues fell to the Wild 2-0 Wednesday night at Scottrade Center, inviting that which St. Louis sincerely hoped to squelch: possibility.
“It was (disappointing),” Jake Allen said. “We had a chance to wrap it up at home and didn’t make the most of it. It’s a playoff series, though–we didn’t expect to win four straight games coming into this series, if you had asked anyone before the series started. So back to Minnesota, we’re going to regroup tomorrow and go at it.”
The series shifts back to Minnesota for Game 5, for which Wild fans will be raucous; after dropping the first three games of the series, it should feel like the Wild are playing with house money–their crowd will certainly embody that mentality. That’s a dangerous game for the Blues, but it’s the position they’re in after a lackluster performance from the drop of the puck Wednesday.
“That’s in our preparation,” Yeo said. “I think because we weren’t ready right from the start, we scrambled all game. We couldn’t grab it back. We can’t be ready to start the game like that and expect that we’re going to have a positive result. We’re going to have to be ready. Obviously they’ve got a little life now, and they’re going to feel good going back home, so it’s going to be a good test.”
After winning Game 3 Sunday, the Blues had a couple days to wait around before the possible clincher Wednesday night. For the team coming off a win, it’s a scenario that could conceivably disrupt the flow of momentum. Without so much as even a need for a travel day between games, the Blues just had to sit around and wait. So too did the Wild, but their sense of urgency on the brink of elimination was far more evident than the intensity level on the Blues side.
“That’s what you’re dealing with this time of year is the emotions,” Yeo said. “Wish we could have kinda taken back the two days and maybe handled it a little bit differently, but bottom line is, that’s playoff hockey. There certainly will be a number of things we look at tonight, areas where we weren’t good enough that have to get better. So that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”
In a broad sense, an obvious area the Blues will need to improve upon will be the team’s offensive production. It took nearly 10 minutes for the Blues to register a shot on goal Wednesday, signifying their slow start.
On the other end, Jake Allen turned the puck over while out of his net for the first Wild goal, and their second goal came courtesy of Martin Hanzal walking the puck into the zone on some soft defense. To nitpick those blunders would miss the point, though, as the Blues never did find enough of an offensive rhythm to score any goals. Allen has carried the weight of a sluggish offense thus far in the series, but the Blues need their chief goal-scorers to step up if St. Louis is to secure a series win.
“We were just a step slow,” Alexander Steen said. “Decision-making was a little slower today. They were on point, like we expected them to be. It’s another tight one, but tonight we end up losing because of those details. We didn’t push ourselves to earn those little margins, and tonight we lost.
It’s not hard to envision how this remote possibility, this paltry glimmer of hope, could evolve into a legitimately contested series. Lose Game 5 on the road, and suddenly Game 6 takes on a desperate tone. Lose that one–the Blues' last chance to close the thing out at home–and the series could easily slip away altogether upon a Game 7 in enemy territory.
The Blues are far from that point right now, and they have reason for confidence; a 3-1 series lead is a position with a tremendous advantage when compared to the alternative. Still, the longer this thing drags on, the more realistic a Minnesota comeback becomes.