Wild fall to Blues; Coyotes draw near
ST. LOUIS — Everybody in the St. Louis Blues’ dressing room — from their confident coach Ken Hitchcock to their brash, hard-nosed captain David Backes — talked Thursday about sending a loud and clear message to the Wild.
Just by chance the crumbling team from Minnesota fell into the eighth playoff spot and a likely first-round matchup with the big, bad, NHL-leading Blues, defenseman Barret Jackman said it was time for St. Louis to “throw everything at them and put doubt in their mind.”
Like there wasn’t already doubt.
The Blues beat the Wild for a ninth consecutive time Thursday night, and this 5-1 loss was like most every one of the Wild’s losses at the Scottrade Center.
Quick, painful and absolutely convincing. The Wild hasn’t won in regulation in St. Louis since Oct. 2007, a span of 12 games.
Overall, it was the Wild’s ninth loss in 12 games (3-5-4) since the March 5 trade deadline. Its position in the standings is becoming exceedingly shaky.
The eighth-place Coyotes beat New Jersey in a shootout Thursday, pulling within one point of the Wild heading into Saturday’s Wild-Coyotes showdown.
That means the Wild are perilously close to potentially having to face the Blues in the first round, and that’s only if this rickety team doesn’t blow a playoff spot.
The ninth-place Stars are six points behind and have played two fewer games.
Thursday, the Blues did everything they could to get in the Wild’s grill, from incessant post-whistle scrums to nasty net-front, stick-swinging battles. T.J. Oshie played with swagger and scored his first career hat trick, while his sidekick Backes cross-checked little Jared Spurgeon, crushed little Mikael Granlund and ruthlessly trash-talked goalie Darcy Kuemper from the bench after Jaden Schwartz’s second-period goal made it 3-0.
Kuemper actually initiated things with Backes when he cross-checked him on the power play, then got into his face. Kuemper probably was upset because Backes ran him hard in the first period.
“I’ve never had a young goalie tap me so many times in front of the net. I’m going to stand my ground,” Backes told Fox Sports North’s Kevin Gorg during the second intermission. Backes then told Gorg it was nice to see teammates blow shots by Kuemper, who gave up at least three goals for the fifth time in seven starts.
One player who blew three pucks by Kuemper was Oshie. The forward, who hails from Warroad, Minn., spent 30 minutes before the game practicing his shot. Practice apparently makes perfect.
After the Wild couldn’t beat Ryan Miller on five shots during an early power play and after the Wild jumped out to an 8-1 shot advantage, Oshie found a loose puck in the slot and fired past Kuemper’s glove.
It was that easy.
But the way Thursday’s game unraveled was unbelievable even by Wild standards.
Late in the first period, Cody McCormick, acquired at the trade deadline to stand up to gruff teams such as St. Louis, got away with elbowing Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk and Max Lapierre retaliated and got dinged, so the Wild ended up with a four-minute power play. McCormick was cut over his left eye.
Despite being handed such a gift by the referees, the Wild coughed up a shorthanded breakaway goal to Oshie.
Spurgeon, who gave away a puck for a goal the night before against Vancouver, handed the puck to Oshie at center ice, but the problems started earlier.
Just 2½ weeks ago, the Wild took a moral victory from a home shootout loss against the Blues, claiming it proved it could play with St. Louis, that it made a statement.
It’s safe to say the Wild was brought back to reality Thursday.