Wednesday, February 21

It looks like Wild will turn to Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 1 against Blues – InForum

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Wild goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot said all the right things in the days leading up to Monday’s NHL playoff opener against the St. Louis Blues.

Asked last week about potentially being the Game 1 starter, Fleury laughed and responded, “Whoever it is, I’m happy to be part of this team and go on a run with them.” Asked the same question, Talbot responded, “Both of us have been playing well. We’re both probably deserving of it.”

While that’s certainly true based on the splits, it looks as if Fleury is going to get the nod for the Wild to open the series against the Blues. As much as coach Dean Evason tried to downplay it, everything pointed to Fleury in the hours leading up to Game 1.

Not only did Fleury occupy the starter’s net in morning skate, he was the first guy off the ice while Talbot stayed on late to take shots from the extra skaters.

“It’s not a tough decision, right?” Evason said without actually confirming his Game 1 starter. “It’s an easy decision because we feel both are more than capable of starting for us here. We’re excited about the opportunity to have both guys available if we need it. And we probably will.”

That’s something general manager Bill Guerin also emphasized last week when talking about Fleury and Talbot.

“You can’t make a bad decision,” he said. “We have two guys that we have all the faith in the world in.”

Similar to Evason, Guerin noted that if the Wild want to go on a long playoff run, they’re going to need both goaltenders.

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“It’s a grind,” Guerin said. “The process of winning a Stanley Cup is grueling. It takes a physical and mental toll. We have to be kind of fortified in each position, and I think we are.”

For the record, since the March 21 trade deadline, Fleury is 9-2-0 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, while Talbot is 8-0-3 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

When it comes to special teams, a critical component of the NHL postseason, the Wild and Blues appear to be from different stratospheres.

St. Louis finished the regular season with the second-ranked power play, successful 27 percent of the time, and fifth-ranked penalty kill, 84.1 percent. The Wild, by contrast, ranked 18th (20.5) and 25th (76.1).

“It’s been a big part of our success all year, and obviously in the playoffs, calls seem to get a little tighter,” Blues center Ryan O’Reilly said. “I don’t think there will be as many special teams plays (so) they’re vital. They’re vital to winning a season, to winning a series.”

At least the Wild are trending up.

In its last seven regular-season games, Minnesota’s power play was successful at a 25.7 percent clip (9 for 35) and the kill was successful 84.6 percent of the time (22 for 26).

“Our special teams haven’t been the best part of our game all season, so for them to step up here in the postseason would be a positive thing,” Evason said. “So, we’re looking forward to having that happen.”

Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov is tied for 13th in the NHL in both power play goals (14) and points (31).

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When it was mentioned to center Joel Eriksson Ek that the Wild haven’t played that well against the Blues this season (0-2-1), the checking center said, “We haven’t played them yet here at home.”

The Wild and Blues played in the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, a 6-4 Blues victory that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate at Target Field that stood as the Wild’s home game against St. Louis this season.

Monday night was the Blues’ first game at Xcel Energy Center since the team played three straight in St. Paul April 28-May 1, 2021, an anomaly resulting from the pandemic schedule. Minnesota went 1-1-1 in those games – although in eight games the Wild were 2-5-1 against the Blues and 0-4 in St. Louis.

“It’s playoffs,” Eriksson Ek said. “Everybody is back to zero, and it’s the first to four (wins).”

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