For the second time in three years, the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will face off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For both teams, however, this time around is much different. The Wild possess home-ice advantage this time, along with one of the most powerful scoring teams in the league. They have a new coach in Bruce Boudreau, who nearly led the Wild to their first division title in nine years.
The Blues also have a new leader behind the bench. Former Wild head coach Mike Yeo took over on Feb. 1 after St. Louis fired Ken Hitchcock. Assuming his new role as head coach, Yeo saw the Blues do a complete 180, going 21-8-2 while compiling the best goals-against average in the NHL. They did this despite dealing captain David Backes in the offseason and Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline.
Goaltending Matchups to Watch
Goaltending is going to be a huge factor in this series. Jake Allen will get the nod for the Blues and Devan Dubnyk for the Wild. Despite a poor start to the 2016-17 season, Allen turned it around at the end of the season. He went 11-2-2 in his final 15 starts, allowing two goals or fewer in 11 of those 15 starts.
Devan Dubnyk has been a different story for the Wild. After having a tremendous first half of the season, becoming an early favorite to win the Vezina, Dubnyk saw his numbers dip in the later part of the year. He went 3-8-2 in the month of March with a .889 save percentage, giving up three or more goals six times. Dubnyk did rebound, however, going 3-0-2 in his final five starts of the season.
Playoff Experience Advantage
These two teams have plenty of playoff experience over the past five years. The Wild have made the playoffs the past four years and with practically the same group all four times. Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon have played in the playoffs the last four years. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Nino Niderreiter have played in three of the past four years. The Wild have added others such as Chris Stewart and Eric Staal, who have their fair share of playoff experience; Stewart with the Blues and Staal with the Hurricanes, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2006.
The Blues have a ton of playoff experience on their roster as well. They made the playoffs the previous five years, with five players playing all five previous years. Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Alex Steen, and Jake Allen have been with the Blues the past five seasons. Players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, and Jaden Schwartz have all gained valuable experience in the postseason as well. Minnesota has the slight advantage as far as experience goes. They have had the same core players stick around longer and have been able to play much more playoff hockey together than the Blues’ players have.
Who Wins the Series?
It’s going to be a very entertaining series. Both teams ended the season on a high note and have plenty of talent that can ignite in key moments of a game.
I think the Wild are going to take this series in six games. This team may lack a Vladimir Tarasenko, but it has so much depth throughout all four lines. The Wild had 12 different players reach double-digit goals. The Blues had 10. The Blues only had two players eclipse 20 goals on the season, while the Wild had four. The Wild dominated this year at even strength while the Blues were one of the league’s top power plays. If the Wild can stay out of the box and if Dubnyk can return to early-season form, this series will go to the Wild.