Wild beat Blues to open playoffs

Published 4:53 am Friday, April 17, 2015

ST. LOUIS — Just like the regular season, the Minnesota Wild appeared right at home in someone else’s rink.

“That was a fantastic road game,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said after the Wild opened the playoffs strong with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

“We were great with the puck,” Dubnyk added, “we were fast coming up the ice on turnovers and we did a good job with keeping them to the outside.”

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The Wild tied the NHL record with 12 consecutive road victories late in the season before dropping a largely meaningless 4-2 decision in St. Louis in the finale. During the run that matched the 2005-06 Red Wings, they beat the Blues 3-1 on March 13 in addition to three wins in Nashville and another in Chicago.

Before Game 1, though, they’d won just two of the previous 18 road playoff games. The exception came in overtime at Colorado to clinch the opening round.

“If we did one thing well tonight, I thought we were opportunistic early,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba gave Minnesota a two-goal lead through two periods and the Wild kept chances to a minimum for Dubnyk until late.

“I think we did a lot of good things,” forward Zach Parise said. “We didn’t give them too much in our zone and we played pretty smart and getting that first one, especially getting that road one, it was huge for us.”

Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen scored in the third period for the Central Division champion Blues, but too little and too late. Game 2 is on Saturday.

Coach Ken Hitchcock and his players thought the four-day break after the finale was detrimental. The Wild also had four days to prepare.

“I don’t know if it was nerves or too much time off or what, but we didn’t bring our ‘A’ game from the drop of the puck,” captain David Backes said.

Dubnyk, in his playoff debut, saw only 11 shots in the first two periods, and finished with 19 saves. Blues rookie Jake Allen, who finished the season 5-1-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average, also played in his first postseason game and had 25 saves.

Hitchcock said the 24-year-old Allen, who got the nod over veteran Brian Elliott, will be in net again Saturday. Allen took the setback in stride.

“I don’t think we expected to win four straight,” Allen said. “We got one out of the way, got the nerves or the playoff jitters or whatever you want to call it out of the way for everyone.

“Saturday’s a new day.”

There was a flurry of scoring in the final seconds, some of it after a standing-room crowd had headed for the exits.

Mikael Granlund’s empty-netter made it a two-goal cushion with 1:13 to go, 7 seconds after Allen headed for the bench. Steen scored with 58.7 seconds left for St. Louis, but Jason Pominville scored with 20 seconds left to clinch it.

The Wild scored on their second shot for the early lead. Zucker, who missed last postseason with a knee injury and a big chunk of this year with a shoulder injury, got a step on Zbynek Michalek for an odd-angle shot and got the puck right back for a wraparound at 2:47.

“Obviously it was tough sitting out last year, but I’ve put that behind me,” Zucker said. “With the injury this year it was tough, too, but I was just excited to get back and try and help this team.”

Schwartz, third on the Blues with 63 points, deflected a point shot by Kevin Shattenkirk at 7:12 of the third.

Zucker had a career-best 21 goals, tied for third on the team, with just five assists. He served as his own setup man on the lone goal of the first period.

“That guy’s a speed demon,” Allen said. “Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him.”

Dumba ripped a high one-timer past Allen, screened by two Wild players, on a power play at 4:10 of the second to make it 2-0.

NOTES: Commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game and was non-committal on St. Louis getting an outdoor Winter Classic, aside from saying: “I think at some point, we should be here.” … There were no surprises among the scratches. D Robert Bortuzzo and C Olli Jokinen were out for the Blues, and F Matt Cooke was out for Minnesota. … Zucker scored 12 goals on the road during the regular season.