With Wild's season on the brink, it's not outrageous to expect two more high-drama playoff hockey games
The first-round playoff series between Minnesota and St. Louis may come to an end on Thursday, as the Blues most recent win pushed the Wild to the edge of elimination. And after five contests that have had a bit of everything, anything less than seeing all seven games would be unfortunate.
ST. PAUL – If it all ends on Thursday, that will be a shame.
After Tuesday night’s come-from-behind win by the St. Louis Blues, they head home with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to end the Minnesota Wild season in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. In seven-game series that are tied 2-2, as this one was, the winner of game five wins the series something like 80% of the time. And if that happens on Thursday, it will be too bad.
That’s not just because this has been a history-making Wild season, with the real promise of a deep playoff run for the first time in nearly a decade. It is because the first five playoff games have been wildly (no pun intended) entertaining, for fans of both teams. And after all that fans of this sport and all sports have suffered through since the start of the pandemic, 120 more minutes of Wild and Blues should not be too much to wish for.
We’ve had goaltending of stellar quality and questionable quality. We’ve had one goalie change and it’s not unrealistic to expect another on Thursday, as Marc-Andre Fleury might finally get a coach-mandated night off.
In this time of international tragedy on the other side of the world, both fanbases have found Russians that they can cheer for. Minnesota star Kirill Kaprizov has seven goals in five games, including two more on Tuesday. Not to be outdone, his countryman in blue, Vladimir Tarasenko, broke out of a slump just in time on Tuesday, scoring twice early in the third period on Tuesday and adding an empty net goal to put a damper on the fun the Wild fans had enjoyed up until that point.
We’ve had intrigue caused by the guys in black and white stripes, who have called everything some nights (good for St. Louis, with a power play that’s scored at better than 30% through five games) and have swallowed the whistles – like NHL officials have historically done come playoff time – on other nights.
We’ve had injures that have so battered the Blues defensive corps that they had to pull up Scott Perunovich, the former Minnesota Duluth star and Hobey Baker winner, just two months removed from a surgery on his wrist. Perunovich, so adept at running the Bulldogs’ offense from the blue line, recorded an assist in each of his first two NHL playoff games, both of which the Blues have won.
We’ve had what a pressbox colleague so perfectly labeled “good stress” for a week and a half now. On Tuesday, with 20 minutes to play in the fifth game these teams have played, there was no discernible tell as to how this series would end. No distinct advantage for either team, save for home-ice advantage, which the Wild have earned, twice, and St. Louis has now taken away, twice.
So we follow the southerly flow of the Mississippi once again down to Missouri, for a game six that will either mean the end of this most promising Wild season or one more night in downtown St. Paul for a winner-take-all series finale on Saturday.
You don’t need to own a bar or restaurant near the rink to hope for two more games in this series. You just have to be a fan of great, intriguing hockey, of which we have already seen plenty.
After seeing the 2020 playoffs contested in empty buildings far from here, and all of the limited-capacity hockey fans endured in 2021, two more games in 2022 should not be too much to expect.