Minnesota Wild

Martin Hanzal plays hero for desperate Wild team

(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

The Minnesota Wild needed a big performance from one of their top players.

Heading into Game 4, the St. Louis Blues had already established their MVP in Jake Allen. One could argue that the Missouri club had little business securing a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, but outstanding goaltending and some fortunate bounces allowed them to do so.

While the Wild still have a long way to go before getting to a Game 7, they managed to come up with their own hero in Martin Hanzal.

For those who have been watching Minnesota closely over the last few months, this shouldn’t be surprising. Even as the team slumped down the stretch, the 30-year-old center played some of his best hockey in recent memory. After coming to the Wild following a Feb. 26 trade with the Arizona Coyotes, Hanzal notched four goals and nine assists in 20 regular season games.

None of those markers were bigger than the one he scored in the second period of Game 4, however. With the Blues pushing the pace after head coach Mike Yeo shifted his forward lines, Minnesota was under siege in their own zone — at least compared to how the first frame unfolded, which saw St. Louis play some remarkably listless hockey.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen all seemed to be ratcheting up their intensity, and it seemed like St. Louis would tie the game at one-all in due time.

At least that was the case until Hanzal snapped a wrist shot by the previously unflappable Allen from 34 feet away.

The tally was a nice reward for the center, who has been among Minnesota’s best players in the playoffs. It’s important to be careful with small sample sizes when looking at possession, but Hanzal’s line has arguably been the Wild’s best through the first four games of the series.

In Game 1, he finished with a Corsi For of 63.04 percent. He followed that up with a 60 percent Corsi For percentage in Game 2 and a 75.86 percent performance in Game 3. In Game 4, he was once again on the extreme end of positive, finishing with a 56.25 percent.

Again, these are small sample sizes but viewed within the context of the series as a whole (and the players in it), Hanzal has been a monster with the puck. That’s been the case for the Wild in general, but no one could get the puck behind Allen. The Blues did a great job of limiting high-quality scoring chances and rebounds, and it allowed them to win the first three contests.

That shifted a bit in Game 4, with Allen allowing two goals he’d like to have back and the Wild getting rewarded for their hard work to this point. The numbers have been spectacular for Minnesota, but don’t underestimate the psychological impact Hanzal’s goal could have as well.

It was one of the first times in the series that Allen has looked anything besides superhuman. Game 4 wasn’t the worst game the Blues have played in the quarterfinal, but the difference was they didn’t have their goalie bailing them out over and over again. Allen was still quite effective, but not enough to end the series in a sweep.

Now there’s a little ray of hope as the series shifts back to Minnesota on Saturday. Odds are still stacked against them as they try to overcome a 3-1 deficit, but Hanzal has been an outstanding addition for the Wild since he was added this winter. Sometimes trade deadline moves don’t pan out, but the longtime Coyote has been a smash hit in the Twin Cities.

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