ST. LOUIS — With its season on the line, the Wild made not one but multiple changes ahead of facing the Blues on Thursday in Game 6.
Cam Talbot took over in net for his first start of the best-of-seven series after Marc-Andre Fleury handled the previous five games, while Dmitry Kulikov subbed in on defense and Connor Dewar lined up at forward for his Stanley Cup playoffs debut.
For Talbot, this was his first action in two weeks.
His last game had been April 28 vs. the Flames, a 3-2 overtime win that helped him close out the regular season on a 13-0-3 upswing. Despite those results, the Wild had Fleury between the pipes once the playoffs started after acquiring the three-time Stanley Cup champion and future Hall of Famer nicknamed “Flower” from the Blackhawks in a March 21 trade.
While the Wild went 2-3 vs. St. Louis, Fleury posted a 3.04 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Talbot was 0-1-2 against the Blues during the regular season.
“The way he’s handled it and the way Flower has handled it with now Cam in net, it’s just a team-first mentality,” Wild winger Marcus Foligno said. “Talbs speaks after games he hasn’t played in. He’s a voice in that room that we all rely on. He’s an experienced goaltender in this league. He’s gone through the playoffs a couple times and been on teams with some runs.
“We know he’s a great goaltender and just like Flower, we know how to play in front of these guys.”
Kulikov replaced Alex Goligoski, who had played since Game 2 in place of Kulikov, and Dewar filled out a new-look fourth line with Nic Deslauriers sidelined.
After the Blues fell behind 2-1 to the Wild in the first-round matchup, they shuffled their lines and switched up their goaltender. Foligno said revising the lineup can rejuvenate a team.
“Just add something different,” he said. “They don’t know what to expect from that player. They haven’t seen them at all this series. The guys that we’ve had have gotten the job done. Obviously, we’ve won a couple. Just to bring in some new life. Those guys are energized, too.
“The guys coming in have been working hard during the skates and preparing themselves for this moment. We knew going in we were going to be using a lot of guys, so here’s an opportunity for these guys to come in and play great and bring us that depth and that balance.”
The battle between the Wild and Blues has taken center stage when it comes to Kirill Kaprizov and fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a hat trick in Game 5 after Kaprizov scored twice.
“Obviously, when you play against guys from Russia, you have some extra emotions,” Tarasenko said. “But at this time of the year, I think it’s more St. Louis against Minnesota. I know him last couple years. I know him more that we have same agent now. We talk once in a while, but he don’t talk since the start of the series.
“He’s a good guy, have some success in season, but he’s our opponent so no friendship over there. Just try to play. Don’t think where he’s from. Just play hard against everybody here.”
As in Games 4 and 5, St. Louis kept 11 forwards and seven defensemen in its lineup.
Veteran defensemen Marco Scandella and Torey Krug (lower-body injuries) did not play, and goalie Jordan Binnington made a third straight start.
Sarah McLellan covers the Wild and NHL. Before joining the Star Tribune in November 2017, she spent five years covering the Coyotes for The Arizona Republic.
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