Blues advance over Wild in OT, Vezina candidates named


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The Blues celebrate their overtime win that eliminated the Wild in a very close five game series. They’ll face the Predators next. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy St. Louis Blues.

Before puck drop for a huge Game 6 between the Canadiens and Rangers at MSG, here are a couple of notes to pass along.

The Blues eliminated the Wild by defeating them 4-3 in overtime at Excel Energy Center in St. Paul. Magnus Paajarvi’s OT winner from Vladimir Sobotka and Jori Lehtera at 9:42 was the difference, allowing St. Louis to advance to a second round match-up against the Predators.

Minnesota showed a lot of heart rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third after having a goal wiped out for interference. Without Eric Staal, who left the game with an upper body injury that sent him to the hospital, the Wild rallied back on goals from Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker to tie the game. It was a tremendous effort.

In sudden death, the Wild had the better chances. But couldn’t beat unflappable Blues goalie Jake Allen one more time. Instead, late Spring addition Sobotka made a great move towards the net following a Devan Dubnyk turnover. He drew players towards him and kicked for an open Paajarvi, who didn’t miss from in front. The Wild coverage was late with Zach Parise blowing the assignment.

So, the Blues are now playing the Preds in the Central Division Final. The third place and fourth place teams for the right to make the Western Conference Final. It’s not surprising. I did take St. Louis over Minnesota in six. I just felt they were playing better entering. Particularly Allen, who’s been much better since legend Martin Brodeur worked with him. Brodeur fixing a goalie. Shocking. I bet the Devils wish they still had Marty in the organization.

The most shocking development was Pekka Rinne only allowing three goals against the Blackhawks in Nashville’s four-game sweep. I thought the Preds stood a chance but didn’t take them due to Rinne. He had been up and down all season. Nobody could’ve predicted that. Funny too because I blindly took Chicago to the Conference Finals. But knew they were flawed. They are so top heavy that it’s no longer the same group. So, they were always beatable. Jonathan Toews had another bad performance and Patrick Kane only scored one goal.

These NHL playoffs are funny. You just never know. I think Nashville can give St. Louis a series. But I think you have to give the Blues the edge due to Allen. But it should be a good series. One final thought on the Wild. They were in every game. To quote John Tortorella following his team’s tough five-game defeat to the Pens, “It wasn’t a five-game series.”

Some series are like that. When the Rangers lost to the Kings in 2014, it was a whole lot closer than five games. The Wild’s loss to the Blues reminded me of when our ’97 Rangers got past a very good Devils team in five to make the Conference Final. In that one, Mike Richter outplayed Brodeur and they benefited from that dumb crease rule which saw the Devils have a couple of goals wiped out. A asinine rule they kept around too long. Brett Hull anyone? That still hurts in Buffalo.

Speaking of which, what the heck are the Sabres doing? So, Jack Eichel already has that much pull after two years. He got both Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray fired. Boy oh boy. I agree with axing Bylsma, who wasn’t the right fit. But I felt Murray did a solid job. But he didn’t want to get rid of Disco Dan. So, Terry Pegula did it for him and Murray lost his job. You wonder why every time a new owner emerges for the Sabres, it turns into a disaster. We’re not there yet. But they better get it right.

So, the Vezina candidates were revealed by the NHL on Twitter and on NHL Network. And there was one surprise. Carey Price is up for the award along with co-favorites Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby. Nothing against Price, who most agree is the world’s best currently. But he didn’t turn it around until Claude Julien took over for Montreal.

In this blogger’s opinion, Cam Talbot was better and more consistent in Edmonton. He’s continuing to play well in his first postseason as a starter with two shutouts. He has the Oilers one win away from the second round. Talbot tied for the league lead in wins with 42 while posting a 2.39 GAA, .917 save percentage and seven shutouts in a league-leading 73 appearances. He got shafted.

Price wound up with 37 wins, a 2.23 GAA, .923 save percentage and three shutouts. Respectable numbers. I didn’t feel he was a top three goalie this year. You could argue Tuukka Rask did more with a Bruins team by pitching eight shutouts with identical wins and GAA but a .915 save percentage. They weren’t as good defensively. He is the reason they haven’t been eliminated yet by Ottawa.

At least the three Norris finalists are as expected. Brent Burns, Victor Hedman and my choice Erik Karlsson. The Selke candidates are Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler and Mikko Koivu. As expected, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews and Zach Werenski are the three up for the Calder in a very strong rookie class that included William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Brady Skjei, Matt Murray and Matthew Tkachuk.

Alright. It’s game time. The face off should start some time before 8:20. I hate NBC.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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