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Brandon Veale column: Wild, Blues series is close but not dramatic yet

Could Game 5 on Tuesday be the first one in the series that's in doubt late?

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Brandon Veale
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There are certain opinions in these parts that can get you in trouble. If I used this space to share a "bad" take on Trampled by Turtles, certain craft breweries or Two Harbors-area pie outlets, I might not live to write another column.

But here might be the most controversial of them all: Through seven days, the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs haven't been very exciting.

Sure, as of Monday afternoon, there was only one series that could end in a sweep and it was still possible for seven of the eight series to be tied 2-2 through four games. But the way we've gotten to this point has left something to be desired in the drama department.

The Minnesota Wild-St. Louis Blues series is a great example of this. Most people expected this one to go six or seven games, and we now know that will be the case. But Sunday's Game 4 was the closest in the series thus far: 5-2 St. Louis, albeit with two Blues goals in the last two minutes.

Through seven days, the tally across the four series is Winning Team 136, Losing Team 45, or if you'd like an average, Winners 4.86, Losers 1.61. Of the 28 games played to this point, there have been two overtime games and a single one-goal game that ended in regulation. By comparison, there have been three games in the Wild-Blues series alone that have been decided by four goals.

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Hockey's ultimate desperation move, pulling the goaltender, has mostly benefited only gamblers betting the over. Thus far, teams have allowed 18 empty-net goals and scored zero with the extra attacker, though the numbers are inflated by the fashionable tactic of throwing a sixth skater on earlier than previously thought necessary.

Eighteen first-round games in 2017 and 16 in 2021 went to overtime. For us to get to 18 this year, we'd need no fewer than 57% of the remaining games to go to OT, and that's if all eight series went the full seven games, which anyone who has watched more than five minutes of the Avalanche and Predators will tell you is not going to happen.

How we got there might be a prime example of "be careful what you wish for." Pundits have for years either celebrated or denigrated the fact that NHL officials tend to call the postseason by more permissive standards. This year's playoffs have featured actual penalties, which tend to lead to actual goals. There have been 48 power play goals through the first 28 games of this year's postseason. There were 101 power play goals in 84 playoff games in 2021.

That has been a unique complication for the Wild, whose struggles on special teams have been rather pronounced. David Perron beat the Minnesota penalty kill for two of the three legs of his Game 1 hat trick and Ryan O'Reilly has scored in the third period of the third and fourth games. The Wild have two power play goals thus far, scored 6:02 apart in the first period of Game 2 by Freddy Gaudreau and Kirill Kaprizov.

So if the Wild want to finish off what is now a best-of-three, there's a good place to start.

Another lost art in this year's playoffs? Lead changes. The team that scored first has won all four games of the Wild-Blues series, and through 28 postseason games, the only team that has trailed in the third period and went on to win was Washington in Game 1 of its series against Florida, a team that was, of course, 39-0-1 when leading after two periods in the regular season.

I realize "don't give up power play goals" and "score early" are right up there with "get pucks in deep" in the annals of cliched hockey advice but to some degree, the words of Ecclesiastes — there is nothing new under the sun — apply to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The officials will probably stop handing out eight penalties a game in Game 6 and Game 7 of these series. There might even be some overtime games that will be decided by a shot from the point that hits three sticks, two legs and a partridge in a pear tree before going in.

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After the rolling ball of chaos that was the Memphis Grizzlies-Minnesota Timberwolves series, an event that I'm not quite sure has ended, we all probably could have used a little more break time. It's made the early going in the NHL seem almost pedestrian.

But the thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is they aren't won by the most interesting team, but by the best team, and a week in we don't know that yet. And that's OK.

Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at bveale@duluthnews.com.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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