Inside Blues goalkeeper Ville Husso’s historic first game: ‘He was as cool as a cucumber’
ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Ahead of Game 1 of the Blues’ first-round playoff series against Minnesota on Monday, Ville Husso had a visit from goalie coach Dave Alexander.
It wasn’t to warn Husso about Kirill Kaprizov’s shot, Mats Zuccarello’s play, Kevin Fiala’s skating. No, he was giving Husso a warning about the strength of the crowd of 19,053 at the Xcel Energy Center.
“Davey said it was going to be a little louder than regular season games,” Husso said. “He reminded me of it, so I knew.”
The 27-year-old was able to block just as he blocked all 37 shots he saw from the Wild in a 4-0 win, making him the first goaltender in Blues history to record a game white in his playoff debut.
There were plenty of positives in the win, including David Perron’s hat trick, but Husso was brilliant.
In the regular season, Minnesota’s offense ranked fifth in the NHL in goals per game (3.72), and the Wild were shut out only once, by Winnipeg in February. Three months later, Husso held them off with 25 even-strength saves and 11 on the power play. He faced 18 high-risk chances, according to Natural Stat Tip.
“He was really good,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “They had a lot of power plays. He made stops and did his job.
As the Blues and Wild prepare for Game 2 on Wednesday night, let’s step back and take a look at what led to Monday’s success.
Husso was the first Blues player on the ice for morning practice at noon on Monday, starting his stretch at 11:55 a.m. – before Olympia had even finished resurfacing the ice after practice on Monday. Minnesota.
“We want to get there as soon as possible,” Husso said. “We skated at 12 p.m., and usually we skate at 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. on the road. So yeah, I went out there and tried to warm up a bit.
It was no surprise when Husso was the first goaltender off the ice after practice, signaling he would be the opener starter. He earned it with a regular season that saw him go 25-7-6 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
“He’s played some really big games for us this year and he’s done a great job,” Berube said. “He got better and better over the year. He’s been consistent all year, and he just has to go out there and do what he’s been doing. Nothing really changes. I know it’s the playoffs, but he just has to play his game and do what he did. »
If there was one factor why the Blues thought Husso could handle Kaprizov, the crowd and the timing, it was that word from teammate Justin Faulk.
“Just ‘calm’. … He’s a calm guy,” Faulk said. “That’s probably the trait I can give. Nothing seems to phase him too much. On and off the ice, he’s the same behavior. I wouldn’t expect anything different from him tonight.
They were right.
Minnesota had 14 shots in the first period, including four very dangerous chances.
Two of his best saves of the night came minutes into the game, with the Wild on the power play and the game tied 0-0. On the first, Husso faced puck carrier Zuccarello and slid through the crease to make a quick save on Kaprizov after a pass into the slot.
This reading was exceptionalsaid Darren Pang, Blues TV analyst and former NHL goaltender. “It tells me that the preparation before the series between Husso and Dave Alexander has been phenomenal because Husso sees Zuccarello there as a pass first. So Husso must have seen with his right eye that someone was there.
“But you can’t cheat too much because then Zuccarello is going to shoot and score from the short side. So you have to respect the guy with the puck, but Husso’s knowledge of Zuccarello (being) a passer was exceptional. In fact, he happened almost too fast, and that shows you how prepared he was for that pass. Kaprizov is a left-handed shot, so it’s a tough game to elevate. I’m sure Kaprizov thought he was going to be able to do it, but it’s a great stop of the right pad.
After the stoppage, Pavel Buchnevich of the Blues cleared the puck from the zone, but Matt Boldy of the Wild brought it back less than 30 seconds later. Ryan Hartman then had a nice pass to Foligno, who went forehand to backhand around defender Colton Parayko in front of the net. Husso managed to get his left leg on the ensuing shot.
“What a great save that was. Man oh man,” Pang said. is not an easy move to make. So Husso’s ability to stop with his right edge – he slides to his right and he has to dig in with the inside of his right skate blade, then he has to push back to his left and still seal his cushion.
“I guarantee that if you do this in your hotel room tonight, you’ll pull your groin and rip your hip.” That’s how good a play it was. That then told me how sharp he was going to be and his focus was perfect. You expect Foligno to embed it, redirect it, or maybe (get) a quick snapshot, and that’s why you’re overcompensating to your right. When Foligno brings it back to his backhand, most goalies will slide to his right and there’s no way you can get back to the left unless you’re 7 feet tall. So I think the way Husso braked with his right edge was absolutely impressive there.
It also says a lot to Husso’s teammates.
“He was excellent from the face-off,” Blues forward Brayden Schenn said. “He made a huge saving on Foligno – a few earlier. He’s done it all year for us, so coming in Game 1 for us, making some big saves and stealing for us early…we all know goalie is huge in the playoffs.
The Blues started a power play shortly after the stoppage on Foligno, and Perron scored for a 1-0 lead. Ryan O’Reilly added a goal, and instead of chasing after the game, the Blues led 2-0 in the first intermission.
“You need saves from your keeper and he made them,” Berube said. “That’s the bottom line. They will have chances. Good players are going to have opportunities, especially when given so many power play advantages. You need your keeper to make saves.
Minnesota had 14 more shots in the second period — and 11 high-risk chances.
On a particularly dangerous streak, Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek was able to get clear in front of the net, but Husso lowered his right leg to stop him, then recovered in time to recover his left leg on a Jordan Greenway shot.
“He’s pretty composed about what he has to do,” Berube said. “Bad things will happen sometimes, but I think he puts them aside and focuses on the next game.”
Later in the second period, Husso denied Fiala on a wrist shot from the right circle, then stopped a rebound attempt from Eriksson Ek.
Towards the end of the second, with the Blues leading 3-0, Husso had to go into scramble mode to maintain the shutout before the final break.
“He was always a competitor,” Blues teammate Torey Krug said. “If he’s not in position he’ll rush to get back and he’s never out of a game. As a defender you appreciate that stuff because sometimes things happen where you get beat up. They have a wide open look at the cage and he is able to step back and make a save. So its competitiveness is obviously excellent.
Husso sealed the shutout with nine more saves in the third period, including a sliding save on Dmitry Kulikov where he managed to get the puck to hit him square in the chest.
By then, all of Husso’s nerves were long gone.
“I was a little nervous before – as always – but in a good way,” he said. “I feel like it was, you know, just a normal game. Maybe the crowd was a little louder, but I did everything I normally do and prepared.
“It feels good to get the win, that’s for sure. The guys played well in front of me, so they made it pretty easy.
Perron sat next to Husso during the post-match interview session and was asked about the goalkeeper’s performance.
“I don’t like pumping up his tires when he’s here,” Perron said. “No, obviously I’m a big fan of ‘Huss.’ Even four years ago I saw how hard he worked, how passionate he was about the game and you are happy for guys who win everything they have. He certainly did.
“The improvement he’s made over the summer, coming and being ready whenever his name was going to be called out, we’re extremely proud of him. We want him to continue, (but) it’s good to eliminate the first one for his nerves and all that.
A first game that will go down in franchise history.
“No. 1, very few start their first playoff game against such an iconic goaltender as Marc-Andre Fleury and surpass him and get their first shutout in the NHL,” Pang said. will run the same way. This does not mean that the next one who passes behind him will not hit the post and go into the net.
“But he just eagled on his first hole, if you want to use a golf analogy. He’s done something incredibly special that gives him and his teammates a certain level of confidence and maybe leading the opposition. He looked like a goalie, he acted like a goalie and he was as cool as a cucumber, like a goalie who had been there for 10 years.
(Photo: Brad Rempel/USA Today)