Stanley Cup tourney going full tilt!

Marc Elliott

Wild netminder Filip Gustavsson is 4th among all 2023 NHL playoff goalies.

ST. PAUL – Courtesy of a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars at home earlier this evening in the Stanley Cup playoff the Minnesota Wild are right back where they started a week ago. They are in a tied series. But instead of the series being at 0-0, it stands at two games apiece and they will resume hostilities on Tuesday night in the Big "D."

In between games one and four, a lot of hockey was played.  

But on this night, during the postgame analysis some media discussed how great the Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger was and it seemed to be a focus of theirs to lavish praise upon him. And it isn't to say that he isn't a very good player, but on this night the Wild didn't prevail because they didn't cash in on their chances. And they had them, several in fact that would have tipped the game in their favor.

The club should be up three games to one at this point, or maybe even advancing on to the second round if not for a Coach Dean Evason instance of brain flatulence before Game Two.  

I am probably being speculative or maybe even premature in this opinion, but when Evason decided to go with veteran Marc Andre' Fleury instead of continuing with the hot hand of Filip Gustavsson, many questions arose about the decision to adhere to his regular season routine of rotating both goaltenders.

It backfired spectacularly in a 7-3 loss to the Stars that tied the series at a game each. Fleury hadn't played in eight days and looked like it.  

Needless to say, the team did not perform well in front of him in this tilt, but he didn't give the appearance that he could have overcome that with his play either. Right or wrong, I have learned from childhood forward that in the NHL playoff you ride the hot goalie until they aren't anymore.

I also learned that if you approach the playoffs with your regular season modus operandi you will normally get eliminated from the tourney. Let's just say that I have some questions and concerns with Deano's approach at this point. Instead of having a stranglehold on this series, the Wild is right back to its norm of being in a position of series uncertainty.  

To no one's surprise the NHL playoff officiating has had a few less-than-sterling moments already and we are only finished with the first week here. In this afternoon's game, Wild forward Marcus Foligno was penalized twice and the result was two DAL PP goals. And whether you are in the league, on a team or sitting in the stands, the real problem here is that between the regular season and the playoffs there doesn't appear to be any distinguishable standard of officiating established.  

In several games viewed during the weekend I saw calls made in one game that wasn't a penalty in another. I've already seen many calls not made that would have been made in the regular season.    

That leaves many people in a state of confusion. In this evening's postgame presser, Evason was clearly doing his best to avoid talking about it. Whether from fear of a lighter wallet or from the knowledge that the issue wasn't going to change or go away, Deano decided to stand down on the matter and it likely was the right choice.  

What are the solutions? I'm not sure. I'm well aware of how hard it is to officiate games at this level and as such, I don't like to criticize the officials. On the other hand, NHL officiating has been so subpar in the playoffs that perhaps fans have become conditioned to it and are no longer as upset as they were about it in seasons past.

I have no problem with the regular and postseason standards being different. What I do question is the obvious drop in the quality of refereeing when the standard does change, whatever it is.  

Games one through three were filled with nastiness and several obvious uncalled infractions. This led to a minor war of words between Stars Coach Pete DeBoer and Evason in the media. Before G4 I believe the Wild was ready for more of the same, but I think that DeBoer instructed his team to go out and play a more disciplined game. Why not? The Stars are statistically better than the Wild in just about all categories. To both team's credit the focus was more on playing the game today.      

What does the club need to do to prevail in G5? More of the same with a couple of tweaks. The Wild has been the superior team at five-on-five. The Stars have dominated on special teams. They have reduced the Wild's PK success rate to 56.3%. (15th of 16 teams) That stat is somewhat skewed due to the three PP goals given up in G2. But that doesn't change the fact that they need to take fewer penalties and give the Stars fewer opportunities.  

The Wild's goalie play has been better outside of G2 with Gus the Bus putting up better numbers than Oettinger. His .941 Sv% and 1.72 GAA are superior to Otter's .909 and 2.68. And Otter gets about 10 words of positive effusive media gushing to every one that Gus receives.

We are continually reminded of how well he played in the seven-game series against CAL last season. (which the Stars lost) I should be used to the discrepancy by now but I'm not. So I must settle down. Any more of this thinking and I'll probably be grinding my teeth!  

A decisive win Tuesday night would set the Wild up for a G6 series win in St. Paul on Friday eve. Can they do it? That's all in their hands. They have the ability.  

IN OTHER SERIES, BOS leads FLA three games to one and can eliminate the Cats in G5 on Wednesday night. The President's Trophy curse will not affect the B's just yet, but it will. TOR leads TBL two games to one with G4 on Monday eve.    

I still feel the Leafs advance here, but the winner of two of the last three Cups isn't going easily. CAR has a 3 to 1 lead on the NYI and it appears that it's just a matter of time before they close it out. The Isles just cannot get their offense untracked. The NJD are holding on by their fingernails (2 to 1 series) to the NYR with G4 at MSG on Monday night. If the Devs even it up, it could swing the series momentum in their direction.  

In the WEST, after losing G1 to SEA, the COL Avs now have a 2 to 1 lead. And they have yet to score on the PP. G4 goes Monday eve. After a G1 win the Jets are down two to one to the VGK. They took the Knights to double OT on Saturday but lost. EDM beat the LAK tonight in OT to even their series at two each. G3 had one of the biggest review mistakes of the tourney so far when they allowed a LAK OT goal to stand that shouldn't have. So, do you want to be an NHL referee? Not me! PEACE