MINNEAPOLIS - With their season on the line and facing elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at St. Louis Thursday night, the Minnesota Wild played one of its worst games of the season in a 5-1 loss to the Blues at Enterprise Center.
The Wild’s season is over, losing the best-of-seven series 4-2, after the team’s best regular season in franchise history that featured 113 points and finishing second in the Western Conference. The Wild needed a win Thursday night to force a Game 7 at Xcel Energy Center.
"I think we all believed that we were going to come back to Minnesota for a Game 7. All I can say is that everyone in that dressing room competed their asses off all year for each other. It’s real disappointing, I don’t really know what to say right now," winger Mats Zuccarello said after the loss.
Dean Evason made some lineup changes before Game 6, most notably replacing Marc-Andre Fleury with Cam Talbot in net.
None of the moves worked. The first Blues’ goal Thursday night came from Nick Leddy, an Eden Prairie native and former Wild first round pick in 2009. He skated down the ice in the first period as all five Wild players stood and watched. He beat Talbot, who was playing his first game in about three weeks, with a wrist shot at 14:59 of the first period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.
Talbot said after the game it's a shot he has to save. Evason said it never should've happened.
"I’m sure it looks like it’s a terrible goal. You have 1-on-5. He should not have an opportunity to shoot the bloody puck. 1-on-5? It can’t go in the net, he can’t get a shot on net. For whatever reason we just got real tight," Evason said.
St. Louis then scored three second period goals to take control of the game. Ryan O’Reilly scored at the 9:26 mark on the power play, after Zuccarello took a delay of game penalty, to make it 2-0. Four minutes later, Alexei Toropchenko rushed the net before Talbot could make a stop. Tyler Bozak pounced on an open rebound for a goal and 3-0 Blues' lead.
With 1:24 to play in the second period, The Blues tacked on another power-play goal after Tyson Jost was called for holding. Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a third period hat trick in Game 5 Tuesday night, buried a cross-ice feed from David Perron for a 4-0 lead. The Blues out-shot the Wild 22-5 in the second period.
The Wild was out-scored 15-5 over the final three games after beating St. Louis 5-1 in Game 3. The Wild led 2-1 after 20 minutes in Game 5, and got out-scored 9-1 over the next 100 minutes of game time.
The Wild avoided being shutout for the second time of the series after Matt Dumba scored on a one-timer from Jon Merrill at 6:25 of the third period. That was the only blemish for Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington, who finished with 25 saves. Colton Parayko scored an empty-net goal at 18:19 of the third period to seal the win for St. Louis.
The Wild talked about playing with desperation before Thursday’s game and expecting to fly home after forcing a Game 7 at Xcel Energy Center. Facing elimination, they were slow, lethargic and let the Blues do what they wanted over the first 40 minutes.
"It’s tough to put into words right now. Just how close this group was and how positive the regular season was. Just disappointing. We feel like we were right there with them," winger Marcus Foligno said.
With Thursday’s loss, the Wild has lost its sixth straight playoff series. They haven’t advanced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since beating the Blues in 2015.
"Our team is defined by resilience. We’ve been resilient, we’ve been able to handle adversity, we’ve been a bounce back group. We got to this spot tonight and we didn’t handle it very well," Evason said. "We’ve got to get to a point to where we can handle it to get to the next round."