The St. Louis Blues are set to face the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs. Thanks to a couple of late-season wins, the Wild have secured home-ice advantage in the series.
The Blues and Wild never played a game at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota this season; they played the Winter Classic at Target Field, and the other matchups were in St. Louis. They’ve also only met two times in the last eight playoffs, each winning a series.
There will be a lot of factors that determine the winner in round one, but the regular-season series doesn’t seem to be one of them.
The Season Series With the Wild
The Blues went 3-0-0 against the Wild in the regular season, with two of those wins coming during the Blues’ major point streak in April. Overall, the teams match up quite well, with just four points separating them in the regular season.
The Blues scored 16 goals to the Wild’s 12 in their three games, and two of those games ended in overtime. Notably, the line of Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, and Vladimir Tarasenko was a force in St. Louis’ two overtime wins. Thomas has five points in three games against the Wild, Buchnevich had two goals and three assists, and Tarasenko had two goals and an assist. Still, the regular-season series should be thrown out the window, and I expect this series to be incredibly even and close.
Matchup #1: Both Teams Have Offensive Firepower
Both teams ranked near the top five in the league in many offensive stats. The Blues were third in goals scored, while the Wild were ranked fifth. Both teams have similar depth on their forward lines; the Blues had nine 20-goal scorers, while the Wild had six.
The Wild have a superstar and game-changing player in Kirill Kaprizov, who had 108 points this season. The Blues don’t have that level of player, but they have a slightly better top-nine group. It says a lot that Brayden Schenn is the team’s third-line center. The Blues’ fourth line could play a major role in the series if they produce, as Alexei Toropchenko and Nathan Walker play well alongside Tyler Bozak. It’s a dynamic line with reinforcements waiting to step in if they struggle.
At the end of the day, the Blues’ depth will be important in this series given their overall abilities. Keeping Torey Krug and Justin Faulk healthy will be a major factor in how they drive offense, especially since the Blues have become a much better transition team this season. The Blues also have a decisive advantage on the power play, where they ranked second, while the Wild ranked 18th.
Verdict: Blues have a slight advantage over the Wild
Matchup #2: Two Defensive Units That Struggled at Times
Both teams have similar defensive styles, and neither one has been great at defending this season. The Wild have more grit on the back-end, with Jacob Middleton being a major factor in that. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba have struggled to a certain degree, but Jared Spurgeon has been wildly underrated.
I’m not a huge fan of the Blues’ defense right now, especially as they had zero consistency after Krug and Faulk. Colton Parayko has been solid, but he’s never become what the Blues hoped. Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo have had their moments, but they leave a lot to be desired. I like what Nick Leddy has done since the trade from the Detroit Red Wings, but there is a shelf life there.
The Blues ranked 11th in the NHL in goals allowed, while the Wild were 18th. Even though that favors the Blues, I think they were saved by some elite goaltending from Ville Husso at times and Jordan Binnington in a recent stretch.
Verdict: Wild have a slight advantage over the Blues
Matchup #3: The Goaltending Tandems
The series could come down to goaltending, and neither team has a true number one, based on this season. The Wild acquired Marc-Andre Fleury from the Chicago Blackhawks, and that move has only increased the playing level of their other netminder, Cam Talbot. As for the Blues, Husso cemented himself as the starter for most of the season, but Binnington has played well as of late.
Fleury is 9-2-0 with a save percentage (SV%) of .910 since arriving in Minnesota, while Talbot has a 32-12-4 record and a .911 SV% for the season. It seems like the Wild will follow the same model as the Blues, which is to start Talbot and have Fleury ready to roll behind him. I see all four goaltenders getting a start in this series, which makes it even more unpredictable.
Husso has come back down to earth a bit recently, but overall, he has a 25-7-6 record and a .919 SV%, while Binnington saved his numbers a bit and finished with an 18-14-4 record and .901 SV%. Husso has never played in the playoffs, while Binningtn has been bad in his last two playoff appearances. Those two factors were key in deciding who has the advantage here; having seasoned veterans matters.
Related: Blues Enter Playoffs with Two Strong Starting Goalies
Verdict: Wild over Blues due to the veteran presence of Fleury
The Series Prediction
It may be an understatement to say that this series will be electric; it is the evenest matchup across the playoff field. The regular-season series has to be thrown out the window, and maybe even goaltending as well; these teams are going to score goals. The Blues can win this series if they roll all four lines with effectiveness, getting scoring from all of them.
Prediction: Blues defeat the Wild in seven games
I find it hard to believe that this series doesn’t go the distance. Both teams have so much offensive firepower, with the ability to strike at any moment. Be prepared for one of the most fun series to watch in the first round.