The Blues and Wild are taking their intense and heavy hitting series to St. Paul for the next two games.
It may be called the state of hockey but Minnesota has not played well on home ice in recent weeks. The team is 4-5-1 at home in its last 10 games and finished the regular season ranked 19th in the NHL with a home record of 22-13-6. However, Minnesota went 5-1 at home in the 2014 playoffs. Their only loss was the one that eliminated them in overtime against Chicago in the second round.
On the flip side, the Blues are feeling good heading to Minnesota, knowing they have played well on the road this season, especially since January 1st.
#stlblues since January 1st…15-4-3 on the road. Finished season 5th in road goals, 1st in road power play goals.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) April 19, 2015
Despite the regular season success on the road, the Blues have lost their last 8 playoff road games dating back to 2013. They’ll be looking to break that streak on Monday night.
Here are a few storylines to watch as both teams look to take another step forward in Game 3.
Health Status of Zucker/Fontaine
There may be some cause for concern surrounding the status of Jason Zucker, who took a slap shot off his hand in Game 2. The 21-goal scorer in the regular season has already scored a big goal in the playoffs, but will this injury affect his grip on the stick and how he shoots the puck?
Jason Zucker said he's fine, but not a stretch to think that's not entirely true. Kept his hands in pockets and didn't skate in optional.
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) April 19, 2015
Zucker says he’s fine and will be ready to play in game 3, but it will be interesting to see if the injury may force him to pass more instead of shooting the puck.
After missing Game 2 with a stomach bug, Wild Coach Mike Yeo said Justin Fontaine will return to the lineup in Game 3. Fontaine was replaced in game 2 by Jordan Schroeder. As a result, veteran Matt Cooke dressed in place of Sean Bergenheim to give the team more penalty killing help. Keep an eye on whether Cooke stays in the lineup over Schroeder or Bergenheim to provide more toughness to counter the pesky Steve Ott of the Blues.
Steve Ott Disrupting Minnesota
It’s the pat on the head that went viral after Game 2. Steve Ott petted the head of Jason Zucker in a taunting kind of way.
The Blues’ veteran agitator was on top of his disruptive game on Saturday. Aside from his antics with Zucker, he even got under the skin of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who gave Ott a few slashes in front of the net. Getting a reaction from a goalie of all players simply means that Ott is doing his job and doing it well.
Steve Ott was one of the Blues' best players in last year's postseason. The same this year. He is incredibly effective. #StlBlues
— Andrew Allsman (@allsmandrew) April 18, 2015
This is the time of year where Ott is at his best. His antics can get inside a player’s head and throw them off their game. Although he may not contribute much on the scoreboard, his impact on the game is certainly felt on the ice.
Blues Defensive Lineup
Although there have been no lineup changes for the Blues in the first two games, it will be interesting to watch if Coach Ken Hitchcock utilizes big defenseman Robert Bortuzzo at all in the next two games. Bortuzzo brings a physical game that’s needed in the playoffs, but he has been a healthy scratch so far in the series.
Whether it’s a move to keep his defensemen fresh or to boost the physical play in a hostile road environment, Hitchcock may be considering giving Bortuzzo a chance to play to get his feet wet in the playoffs.
There will be added pressure on the Blues defensemen as Minnesota looks to step up their fore check and create turnovers. The Blues’ defenders will need to move the puck quickly out of their own zone and forwards will need to come back and help. St. Louis has several talented puck-handling defensemen, with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, that should be able to do the job.
As Game 3 approaches, expect both teams to come out fired up. The first 10 minutes will be critical, either for Minnesota to make a statement or St. Louis to whether the storm and quiet the crowd. Overall this series has been very even so far and has the strong potential to go 7 games.