ST. LOUIS — It was death by a thousand passes Thursday for the St. Louis Blues, who dropped Game 1 of their first-round playoff matchup to the Minnesota Wild 4-2.
Although the Blues managed sustained time in the offensive zone, they left with little to show for it; the Wild dominated the middle of the ice for much of the game, keeping the Blues passing along the perimeter of the zone. By the end of the second period, the Blues had only 11 shots on goal to Minnesota’s 21.
"You really have to simplify your game in the playoffs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought when we didn’t get the shots through at the start, we started to play a very complicated game that made us at times look slow, and we were into the make the next play rather than play it off the goalie and see what he’s got."
When the Blues did make it to the net, they reaped the rewards; defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk sent a shot from the point as teammate Jaden Schwartz converged on the net and sent the puck past Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk, cutting the Wild’s lead to one goal only 7:12 into the third.
The Blues accumulated their biggest total of shots on goal in that period with 10, almost matching their total from the first two periods combined.
"I think we got better as the game went on," Blues captain David Backes said. "I don’t know if it was nerves, or too much time off or what, but we didn’t bring our A game from the drop of the puck, and they were able to score a goal early."
That goal proved a wrap-around masterpiece by the Wild’s Jason Zucker, who got his own rebound from Blues goaltender Jake Allen and secured an edge on Blues defenseman Zbynek Michalek as the two swooped around the net. The goal put Minnesota up 1-0 less than five minutes into the game.
"Guy’s a speed demon," Allen said. "Good play by him. Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him."
It got worse for the Blues in the second period. They were called for two-minute minors three times and gave up a goal to the Wild’s power-play unit, which finished the regular season ranked 27th in the league.
"Usually, we use those penalty kills as momentum changers for us when we’re killing them off, so I thought we didn’t change the tide as quickly as we wanted to," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said.
Still, the game remained 2-1 into the last two minutes of the third period. When Hitchcock pulled Allen, the Wild got a quick empty-netter; the Blues responded with a short-handed goal with under a minute left in the game when Alexander Steen beat Dubnyk as more Blues swooped toward the net, again cutting the Wild’s lead to one goal. Hitchcock pulled Allen again, and the Wild got their second empty-netter, putting the Blues down 1-0 in the series.
"We got our work cut out for us," Allen said.
• Special teams. Both special teams units failed the Blues on Thursday; their record with the extra man was fourth-best in the league during the regular season, but went 0 for twoagainst the Wild’s league-leading penalty kill. Meanwhile, the Blues’ PK, which was the best in the NHL from January through April with an 88.6 percent success rate, gave up a goal to Minnesota’s Matt Dumba in the second period. On the goal, Allen was screened by Wild forwards Chris Stewart and Nino Niederreiter.
"I’ve got to block that. Pietro’s got to block that. Jake can’t see it," Backes said afterward.
• Goaltending. For the first time in five starts, Allen gave up more than one goal in a 60-minute period. He did extend to nine his streak of consecutive games giving up two or fewer goals and finished the night two for 27.
The Blues were complimentary of how their rookie goaltender played in his first full NHL playoff game.
"He made all the saves he was supposed to, and some he shouldn’t," Backes said. "Again, the power-play goal he can’t see, ’cause we’re in the lanes but not blocking pucks. And the wrap-around, he gets around him pretty quick and makes a pretty good play."
"I don’t think we need to talk about the goals, we need to talk about how well he played after that," Pietrangelo said. "He played fantastic for the rest of the game."
Most important, Allen impressed his coach. Hitchcock confirmed Allen will start again in net Saturday for Game 2.
• New tradition. Thursday was the Blues’ first Game 1 in four consecutive postseason appearances that didn’t go into overtime. Oddly enough, the loss might bode well for the length of the Blues’ postseason run. In their past three playoff appearances, the Blues have won Game 1 twice, only to be eliminated in the first round. After their Game 1 loss to the San Jose Sharks in the 2011-12 postseason, however, the Blues came back to win the series and advanced to the second round.