Things were definitely different at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night.
Playing in front of another packed house in downtown St. Paul, the Wild scored four goals in the second period and dumped the visiting Winnipeg Jets 6-2.
With the win, the Wild cut Winnipeg’s lead in the best-of-seven Central Division semifinal to 2-1. Game four is in St. Paul on Tuesday night.
“We only lost six in regulation this year at home, so there must be something about this place,” said Boudreau. “Whether it’s the home cooking, whether it’s the surface of the ice, whether it’s the fans. I think all over sports the home team plays better at home for the most part.”
After the chaos on Saturday, the Jets simply didn’t play well on Sunday. Because of the terrible spring storm that hit the Twin Cities, the Jets couldn’t get in on Saturday and first had their flight re-routed to Diluth and then flew back home. They got on Sunday, game day, and arrived at around 10:30 in the morning, but they looked like a weary hockey team from the opening faceoff. For a team that had won seven straight games, they certainly did not look like winners.
And their goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck was simply not at his best in the second period.
Marcus Foligno of the Wild had a lot to do with the outcome
Blake Wheeler, the Jets captain from nearby Plymouth, Minn., did open the scoring at 4:50 of the first period when his bouncing shot from a weird angle fooled Devan Dubnyk and gave the Jets their only lead of the game. From that moment, however, the Wild would go on to score six of the next seven.
Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise each scored power play goals before the end of the first period as the sloppy, inconsistent officiating that has been an earmark of this series, continued in the first 20 minutes. The Wild were two-for-three on the power play, including a two-man advantage, and then never got another power play the rest of the night.
Didn’t matter. In the second period, the Wild took over. Defenseman Matt Dumba scored his first of the playoffs at 3:32 of the second period, to make it 3-1 and then, after Tyler Myers scored an unassisted goal at 6:42 to make it 3-2, the Wild started shooting the puck and Hellebuyck started missing it.
Eric Staal went high on Hellebuyck and found the only open spot on the short side under the bar to make it 4-2 then Jordan Greenway fired a blind forehand that also went under the bar (Hellebuyck kind of swatted at it but was never close) to make it 5-2 and then Marcus Foligno, scored at 18:23 to cap off a stretch of three goals in three minutes and 43 seconds to put the game away.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice pulled Hellebuyck and replaced him with veteran Steve Mason to start the third and Mason stopped all seven shots he faced. The Jets played better in the third period, outshooting Minnesota 12-7, but the damage had been done early in this one.
The Jets eventually outshot the Wild 31-29 (7-13, 12-9, 12-7) but Dubnyk was too good on this night. He certainly enjoyed playing back home in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. Hellebuyck, meanwhile, gave up six goals on just 22 shots.
The Jets did get some very bad news in the second period. During an awkward collision near the Jets bench after Foligno had blocked a shot, the Wild forward did a nice job punching Myers on the outside of the knee as he was falling to the ice. Myers got off on his own steam, but didn’t return. It’s believed he could be out for the series. If he can’t go on Tuesday, Maurice will have to decide whether to replace him with rookie Tucker Poolman or veteran Toby Enstrom, who has been out with an injury of his own.
Still, while the press and broadcasters have made a big issue of the “physicality” in this series, Maurice doesn’t think it’s been particular physical at all.
“I think more has been made of the physicality, but I personally don’t find this series all that physical,” Maurice remarked. “There’s been a handful of very big hits, and then it’s been a pretty clean skater’s game, even relative to the other games we’ve watched on TV.”
Both of these teams were among the best in the NHL when it came to playing on home ice this season. The Wild will have a great chance to tied it up on Tuesday.
Indeed, Game 4 in this Opening Round series goes Tuesday night right back at the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul. Game time is 7 p.m.
By Scott Taylor
Photos by Marilyn Indahl