The popular excuse for the St. Louis Blues after a defeat in Game 1 centered around a four-day layoff that may have caused them to lose a step following the season finale.
The problem? The Minnesota Wild, who were the Blues’ opponent in that finale, didn’t seem to mind.
Minnesota now looks to head home with a 2-0 series advantage as St. Louis attempts to figure out what went wrong heading into Saturday’s matchup.
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Before three minutes had ticked off the clock Thursday, Jason Zucker had given the Wild the lead. Matt Dumba scored with just over four minutes gone in the second period, and Minnesota cruised to a 4-2 victory.
St. Louis ended the Wild’s NHL record-tying 12-game road winning streak with a victory by the same score last Saturday. The break apparently had more of an effect on the Blues.
”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,” captain David Backes said.
Maybe coach Ken Hitchcock saw it coming all along.
"We have not played well off of layoffs all year. This is probably another example of that," Hitchcock said. "We’re going to have to play better. Killer instinct comes in a number of fashions."
It’s not to say Minnesota didn’t feel the layoff, too. The Wild killed both power plays after they had a league-best 90.8 percent penalty-kill rate since the All-Star break.
"I think for both teams after many days off, it’s like starting a season almost," captain Mikko Koivu said. "It’s not an easy thing to do. Your emotions are high. After a couple shifts it goes down a little bit."
The Wild hadn’t won Game 1 in any of their previous seven playoff series, and they came in having dropped 16 of their previous 18 postseason road contests.
"That’s a good start for us," coach Mike Yeo said. "I think we have to make sure that we use this game, we look at the video, and there’s certainly some areas where we know we can be better. But a lot of good things to take from it, for sure."
Devan Dubnyk won his playoff debut with 19 saves after going 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average in 39 starts after being acquired in January, leading Minnesota’s charge to a third consecutive postseason berth.
"We have to leave this one behind and take the good things out of it but move to the second one," Koivu said. "We know the further it’s going to go, the tougher it’s going to get. We have to enjoy this one for a couple minutes and start to prepare for Saturday’s game."
St. Louis won’t be able to use the layoff as an excuse this time.
"It almost took until the third period until we finally got our legs going and played our brand of hockey," Backes said. "We need that for a full 60 in order to win games against this team and (we get) another chance on Saturday."
Hitchcock said that Jake Allen will be in net after getting the start ahead of Brian Elliott on Thursday. Allen, who went 5-1-1 with a 1.15 GAA in his last seven starts of the season, made 25 saves.
”I don’t think we expected to win four straight,” Allen said. ”We got one out of the way, got the nerves or the playoff jitters or whatever you want to call it out of the way. Saturday’s a new day.”