The analytics and traditional statistics might enable one to make a case that the Wild didn’t play that poorly in a 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their playoff series on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center, but anyone who watched knows the Wild’s performance would have been a one-night-and-done performance if this was a Broadway play.
This was a dud of the first class from a franchise that has gone out of its way to make it clear just how different it is than the Wild teams that regularly were bounced from the postseason in the opening round. The question now is what type of game will the Wild play in Game 2 on Wednesday in St. Paul?
Coach Dean Evason is likely to make some lineup changes, beginning with replacing Marc-Andre Fleury in goal with Cam Talbot. Talbot ended the regular season on a 13-0-3 run, but watched Game 1 from the bench as Fleury got the start.
The move surprised many, but the Wild acquired Fleury at the trade deadline in large part because of his postseason experience and the fact he was on three Stanley Cup winning teams with Pittsburgh. Fleury also was in goal when the expansion Vegas Golden Knights went to the Finals in 2018, and last season his stellar play helped the Golden Knights knock off the Wild in seven games in the first round.
But Fleury wasn’t nearly as sharp as Blues rookie goalie Ville Husso (no goals on 37 shots), surrendering four goals on 31 shots. Considering how much Fleury and Talbot rotated once the former arrived in a deal with the Blackhawks, Talbot getting the Game 2 start wouldn’t surprise anyone.
There also is a possibility of a change on the blueline. Veteran Dmitry Kulikov was a minus-2 in 15 minutes, 50 seconds and had one of his worst games of the season. That could open the door for Evason to plug in Alex Goligoski in Kulikov’s place. Goligoski led the Wild with a plus-minus ranking of plus-41 this season but his play definitely declined in the second half.
The Wild, whose playoff slogan of “It’s about Winning,” comes from a preseason message delivered by general manager Bill Guerin, have seen the Blues go 13-1-1 against them in the past 15 meetings. In order to change that the Wild’s top two offensive players, Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, are going to have to realize that time and space don’t exist in the playoffs and Evason’s entire team can’t allow the Blues to dictate the style of play.
If those things don’t happen, what was expected to be a very entertaining series will be the latest playoff dud for a Minnesota team.
- While Kaprizov not having an outstanding playoff performance would be a huge disappointment, he is only in the first season of a five-year, $45 million contract. The guy who has a lot to lose if the Wild goes out early and he doesn’t produce is Fiala. Fiala finished second to Kaprizov in scoring this season with 33 goals and 85 points in 82 games and could be in line for a big payday this offseason. Fiala will be a restricted free agent this summer after making $5.1 million in 2021-22, but his price tag could take a hit if he doesn’t repeat his regular season success when it matters most.
- Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who was the runner-up last season for the Lady Byng Trophy, was fortunate not to be suspended for a dangerous cross-check to the back of Pavel Buchnevich’s ankles in the third period on Monday. Spurgeon was fined the maximum of $5,000 by the NHL department of player safety. It was a big-time cheap shot for one of the NHL’s classiest players and spoke volumes about just how much the Blues frustrated the Wild.
- The Vikings’ decision not to pick up the fifth-year option on center Garrett Bradbury’s rookie contract makes him the third consecutive first-round pick dating to 2016 on whom Minnesota didn’t exercise the option for the extra year. The list includes wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, the 23rd pick in 2016; cornerback Mike Hughes, 30th pick in 2018; and now Bradbury. Treadwell spent four seasons with the Vikings, and Hughes was with the team for three seasons before being traded to Kansas City after battling various injuries. The Vikings did not have a first-round pick in 2017, but their first selection, running back Dalvin Cook, has had an excellent career after being drafted in the second round. Only first-round picks, however, have fifth-year options. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson, the 22nd pick in 2020, has turned into a star and will get a rich contract, but cornerback Jeff Gladney, taken 31st in the same draft, was released last summer after an off-the-field incident.
- While Bradbury is expected to return for his fourth season in Minnesota, that doesn’t mean he will be the starter. Chris Reed, who played at Minnesota State and signed as a free agent in April after a season with the Colts, will compete with Bradbury at center, according to SKOR North Scoopmaster Darren “Doogie” Wolfson. Reed primarily has been a guard but can play center. The expectation was Reed would be the Vikings’ starting right guard, but don’t be surprised if second-round pick Ed Ingram ends up competing with 2021 third-round selection Wyatt Davis and fellow newcomer Austin Schlottmann for that job. The Vikings also signed Sacred Heart University center Josh Sokol as an undrafted free agent this week.
- The Twins’ Miguel Sano has landed on the injured list because of a left knee injury and manager Rocco Baldelli said it’s possible the first baseman might need to undergo a procedure to fix the issue. The procedure wouldn’t be season-ending, but it’s fair to wonder what Sano’s role might be when he returns? Sano was slashing .093/.231/.148 with a home run and three RBIs in 17 games. Sano’s absence enables Luis Arraez, a superior hitter, to play first base and also enabled the Twins to recall slugging third baseman Jose Miranda, who also was playing some at first for Triple-A St. Paul and was scheduled to start there on Tuesday night in Baltimore. There would appear to be a real chance that if all goes well without Sano, the Twins might try to move on from him before the end of the season. Sano’s contract enables the Twins to buy him out this offseason for $2.75 million.
- The Twins entered Tuesday having won 10 of 11 games and are 14-9, putting them 3.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Guardians in the American League Central. One reason for the Twins’ hot streak has been the early-season turnaround of right fielder Max Kepler. Kepler went from slashing .186/.314/.279 with a homer and three RBIs in his first 14 games to hitting .333/.444/.800 with four homers and nine RBIs in his past nine.
- Shortstop Carlos Correa also has gotten hot after a slow start in his first season with the Twins. Correa hit only .167/.254/.250 with a homer and three RBIs in his first 16 games, but is slashing .500/.522/.546 with no homers and six RBIs in his past six.
- Erik Haula, the former Gopher and Wild forward who has bounced around since leaving Minnesota, had an excellent season with the Boston Bruins. Haula had 18 goals and 26 assists in 78 games to tie former Wild teammate Charlie Coyle (16 goals and 28 assists in 82 games) for sixth on the Bruins in scoring.