April 19, 2017 12:22 PM
Wild Chase for the Cup: 5 Keys to victory in Game 4
Focus on the Now: There is an old adage: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
The Minnesota Wild face a four-wins-in-a-row elephant, but that first bite is Game 4 on Wednesday night. The Wild cannot afford to go into the game feeling the pressure of needing four wins. They can only win one at a time. They need to have a very short forward range of focus -- win the shift, win the period, win the game. It's not easy to look at Mount Everest and take the first step, but that's what the Wild need to do.
Only four teams out of 183 in NHL history who have fallen behind 0-3 have come back to win a series -- but it can be done. The Wild had three runs of four wins or more (including the 12-game win streak) over the course of the season. It's improbable, but not impossible. They just need to start with one goal at a time. Win Game 4 and see what happens. It has to start somewhere. Speaking of which...
Score First: The Wild need some sign of a breakthrough. They need some semblance of belief that they can indeed put pucks past St. Louis goalie Jake Allen (more on him in a bit).
So far, the Blues have been able to put Mike Yeo's system into place perfectly thanks to taking an early lead. With a lead, the Blues can collapse back into their own end and smother offensive rushes, waiting for the one breakdown or opening that allows them to counter-attack the other way. If the Blues rattle in an early softy on Devan Dubnyk -- who's given up one bad goal a game so far this series -- it could spark a tailspin the Wild won't be able to pull out of... again.
Everything changes if the Blues are behind. They're not built to score a ton of goals quickly. If the Wild can get on the board first (for a change), it would force the Blues to attack, which should expose them to rushes back their way. The Wild are the faster, more skilled team. They could definitely take advantage of the situation if they could, for the first time in the entire series, take a lead. How should they go about that? Well...
Attack the Crease: After the Wild peppered Allen with 90 shot attempts in Game 1, Mike Yeo admitted the Wild would be given chances to shoot. But the Blues plan was to keep those shots high and/or wide in the Blues' defensive zone -- spots that aren't high-percentage scoring areas. The plan has worked. Despite the Wild's 76 shots attempts per game, they've scored one goal per ... which, statistically, is almost impossible.
Part of the problem has been the Wild's willingness to fling shots in from above and/or outside the faceoff dots, and even then the shots come in on Allen at glove-level or into his body. Furthermore, with one or two exceptions, every Wild rush in the series has been corralled to the wings by the sizable Blues defensemen. Wild forwards have been far too willing to be steered wide on rushes, instead of trying to cut inside and work for a shot from the middle. The Wild must find ways to run the puck straight down Route 1 and get to Allen from in front of him, not off to the side.
That's the key when the Wild are on rushes. It would also help if during sustained offensive possessions, the Wild would get someone in Allen's crease. He's been allowed to remain calm and comfortable for the most part in his crease. The Wild need to put someone directly in front of him -- 6 foot 5 inch Martin Hanzal, maybe -- to get some traffic in front. That, plus shooting lower on Allen to generate some rebounds, could lead to the kind of "garbage" or "greasy" goals that always seem to crop up in key moments in the NHL playoffs.
Continue to Keep Tarasenko in Check: Aside from Vladimir Tarasenko's deft move around Mikko Koivu that led to the overtime game-winning assist in Game 1, the Blues sniper has been fairly quiet. Furthermore -- if you want another example how razor-thin the margin of victory has been in this series -- watch the replay of that goal ... Tarasenko's assist was an accident. He was trying to shoot, fanned, and the puck rolled straight to a crashing Joel Edmundson, who blasted home the game-winner.
Tarasenko did have another assist in Game 3, but finished the game with a -1 rating. In the last playoff series between the Wild and Blues three years ago, Tarasenko had a hat trick in one game and scored twice in another -- the Blues' only two wins in the series. It's almost impossible to have imagined the Blues could sweep the Wild this year without a single Tarasenko goal. Keeping him from being a factor in driving the final nail in the Wild's coffin could give them hope and an escape.
Hope Jake Allen the Chariot Turns Back Into a Pumpkin: Look, if Jake Allen is superhuman for the fourth game in a row, there's just not anything the Wild can do. There are just some things in sports that, once you get to the playoffs, you can't overcome: an unhittable pitcher, an on-a-roll quarterback, a can't-miss jump shooter and a hot goalie.
If Jake Allen stays in the form he's been over the course of the series, you tip your cap to him and head into the summer. The odds say Allen should regress to the norm at some point. He had a .915 save percentage this year and is at .916 for his career. Somehow, he's at .974 against the Wild this series, having stopped 114 of 117 shots. He can't possibly continue at this clip. The Wild just have to hope for -- or enable -- Allen to come back down to Earth sooner rather than later.
Updated: April 19, 2017 12:22 PM
Created: April 19, 2017 02:27 AM
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