The Minnesota Wild’s series against the St. Louis Blues contains some of the juiciest storylines of any matchup in the first round of the playoffs. Most notably, Mike Yeo is looking for sweet revenge against the team that relieved him of his duties last year. His transition from coach-in-waiting to head honcho has gone smoothly as he’s guided the Blues to 21-8-2 since his new appointment.
For the Wild, the expectation of a deep postseason run creates immediate pressure. For the fifth straight season, they are in the playoffs, only this time it’s with home-ice advantage and the capability of producing offensive onslaughts as opposed to past teams that relied on keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
Looking beyond the ink and onto the ice, the Wild will find success in the following ways.
If you’re trying to find the most dangerous player on the ice for either team, look no further than Vladimir Tarasenko. At 25 years old, Tarasenko is dominating in the prime of his career and has scored 116 goals over the last three seasons, a number that trails only Alex Ovechkin in that time.
In the Wild’s 2014-15 playoff series against the Blues, Tarasenko beat Devan Dubnyk for six goals in six games. As for the rest of the Blues roster, they only contributed eight. If he is able to enjoy that amount of success again, the Wild’s season could easily come to a disappointing and crashing halt.
The bottom line is this. Tarasenko can single-handedly alter a game if he is given the space to release his deadly shot. Dubnyk will have to be on top of his game and the Wild will have to put a body on him every chance they get in order to minimize the damage he is capable of creating.
Take Game One
Emotions will obviously be running at an all-time high when the puck drops in St. Paul on Wednesday. Given the Wild haven’t had home ice advantage in the playoffs in nearly a decade, game one will be a great indicator of how the series will play out.
The series opener is especially important for Dubnyk. His performance has been lackluster since January 31st with a 2.82 GAA and .904 SV%. Those numbers simply aren’t going to cut it against the thriving Blues. The hope is that he can restore his confidence early on, because if he struggles out of the gate, the public blame will fall directly on his shoulders.
Minnesota is a deeper team, that’s the reality. If the Wild’s lines and the Blues’ lines remain the same for game one, the third-line will feature Coyle-Hanzal-Pominville and the Blues countering with Dmitrij Jaskin-Zachary Sanford-Magnus Paajarvi. To put that mismatch into numerical perspective, the Wild’s trio has a combined point total of 142 while the Blues’ set has 29.
Small nuances like this are why home-ice advantage cannot be understated. Having the first two games at Xcel Energy Center allows Bruce Boudreau to have the last change and to explore matchups that can be exploited throughout the series.
The majority of NHL.com writers picked the Blues to upset the Wild in this series. It’s not a huge surprise when you consider the direction each team has been trending over the past month and change.
It’s often said that momentum is the key to playoff success, and the Blues have been on fire with a new coach at the helm for a few months now. On the other hand, the Wild have been able to flip the switch and win with high-octane offense or revert to its past with door-shutting defense.
Only time will tell which formula will prevails.