After giving the Wild a lead less than two minutes into the game, Walz completed his fifth career two-goal effort at 7:33 with his 11th of the season.
But things got ugly in the latter stages of the game when Walz and Pavol Demitra traded jabs behind the Minnesota net. Entering the fracas to protect his teammate, Keith Tkachuk cross-checked Walz to the throat area, earning a five-minute major and a match penalty for attempt to injure.
“I knew someone was coming,” Walz said. “I got cross-checked from behind by Demitra. I think he wasn’t very happy I hammered him in the corner. I wasn’t concerned with the cross-check because I knew someone else was coming.”
“I saw him locked up with (Demitra) and I was trying to check him out of the way,” Tkachuk said. “I got my stick up, but I let up at the last instant. I’m not out to hurt anyone intentionally. And if you ask Wes, he will tell you that.”
While Walz was not injured, Tkachuk could face a suspension after the NHL reviews the infraction.
“I hit him in the shoulder,” Tkachuk said. “If I wanted to (hit him in the face), I could have. I would never attempt to hurt anybody, I don’t care who it was.”
“It’s part of the game,” Walz said. “If he wanted to hit me in the head, he could have. He didn’t get me in the face or it could have been worse. I think it looked worse than it was.”
Demitra netted the lone goal for the Blues, who have dropped three straight and five of their last six.
“It’s hard to get behind early,” St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville said. “When you get behind against a team like this, it plays right into their hands. It’s very frustrating, and I don’t know how to get out of it.”
Minnesota jumped out of the gates, determined to give Jacques Lemaire a victory in his 700th game as an NHL coach.
Defenseman Willie Mitchell wristed a shot from the blue line that went wide of the left goalpost. After the puck caromed off the end boards, Walz batted it out of the air and off goaltender Brent Johnson to give the Wild the lead.
“It was very fortunate,” Walz said. “I was just hoping the puck would bounce far enough out past the goal line to give me an opportunity because I was skating behind the net. And I got lucky. I think it went off the top of the goalie’s pads. We’ll take any break we can get this time of year. We hadn’t been getting many bounces.”
“We knew the boards here were lively,” Johnson said. “I got my leg up against the post, but the puck came off the boards so quick, he knocked it right out of the air and into the net.”
Laaksonen created a turnover in the St. Louis zone and Richard Park gathered the loose puck before dishing to Walz, who fired a wrister past Johnson from the right faceoff circle to make it 2-0.
“If we’re going to get to where we want to go, guys are going to have to step up their game and take some of the pressure off of (Cliff) Ronning and (Marian) Gaborik and (Andrew) Brunette and (Sergei) Zholtok,” Walz said. “The other teams look at our lineup and they’re looking at those guys. They’re not really too concerned about Wes Walz and Antti Laaksonen. If they take us lightly, we can score a little bit, too.”
The Blues halved the deficit midway through the second on Demitra’s fifth tally in as many games.
While on the power play, defenseman Al MacInnis unleashed a shot from the right circle that Fernandez blocked. But the puck dribbled across the crease to Demitra, who tapped it in from the left side at 12:53.
With Park in the penalty box for elbowing, the Wild gained some breathing room.
Kuba led a 2-on-1 into the St. Louis zone and fired a wrister from the right circle that beat Johnson to the far side at 9:28 of the third, giving Minnesota a 3-1 cushion.
“I wasn’t looking at the goalie much, I was looking to pass or maybe fake the goalie a little bit to make it look like I was going to pass,” Kuba said. “I surprised him with the shot and it went in. The defenseman had pretty good position, so I didn’t want to get the pass intercepted.”
Trying to prevent their first loss in five all-time visits to Minnesota, the Blues nearly cut the gap to one goal with 2:39 remaining. But newly acquired Ryan Johnson failed to get good wood on a shot from the doorstep and Fernandez stopped it with his stick before it trickled across the goal line.