Wild-Blues Preview

MATT BECKER (STATS Editor)
The Associated Press

After capturing the Central Division crown their last time out, the St. Louis Blues could secure home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs on the final day of the regular season.

The Minnesota Wild will begin the playoffs on the road, and that probably suits them just fine.

In a potential first-round preview, the Wild look to set an NHL record with a 13th straight road win Saturday against the Blues.

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With Thursday's 2-1 victory over Chicago and Minnesota's 4-2 win over second-place Nashville, St. Louis (50-24-7) earned its first division title since 2011-12. The first-place finish seemed unlikely with the Blues trailing the Predators by nine points Feb. 24, but St. Louis is heating up as the playoffs approach with four victories in five games while Nashville enters its finale having lost five in a row.

"We went through some ups and downs and now we're playing good hockey," center Paul Stastny said. "We're peaking at the right time and that's the most important thing for us."

St. Louis can clinch the West's No. 1 seed with a win over the Wild along Anaheim losing at last-place Arizona later in the day. The Blues and Ducks are tied with 107 points and should they finished tied, Anaheim gets the top spot because it controls all tiebreakers.

The playoff matchups are hardly settled, but the Blues will open against either Chicago, Winnipeg or Minnesota. They'll get the Wild if the Ducks hold on to the top spot and Chicago gets at least one point at Colorado on Saturday. If that's the case, their home ice may not provide much of an advantage.

In helping St. Louis to the Central crown with their victory over the Predators, the Wild (46-27-8) reached 100 points for the second time in franchise history and won a 12th straight road game to match the NHL's single-season record set by Detroit in 2005-06.

"I think it's a really cool thing that we tied it," coach Mike Yeo said. "I know it doesn't sound like much, and it's only two points, but I think there's a big difference between 98 and 100 points. When you get over the 100-point plateau, I think that's a mark of a really good hockey team. That meant something to us, but I think (breaking the record would) be something special for sure."

Their road streak includes a 3-1 win over the Blues on March 14, which snapped a five-game skid in St. Louis. The Wild also defeated the Blues 6-3 a week later.

Both of those games, however, came with Brian Elliott in goal for St. Louis. Jake Allen has gone 4-1-0 with a 1.20 goals-against average in his last five starts to seemingly supplant Elliott, who has a 4.45 GAA in his last four.

Yeo decided to rest No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk and his top three goal scorers - Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek - on Thursday in Minnesota's first game since clinching a playoff spot. The Wild's first-round opponent will be either Anaheim, St. Louis or Nashville.

Dubnyk got his first day off since being acquired from Arizona on Jan. 15, ending a string of 38 consecutive starts. He has a 1.17 GAA during his 11-game road winning streak and stopped 67 of 71 shots in the two March matchups against the Blues.

With Minnesota's top scoring threats out Thursday, Jason Zucker stepped up with two more goals after scoring once in Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Blackhawks, his first game back after missing 27 with a broken clavicle.

The Blues have played their last five contests without leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body), but he could return along with Alex Steen (lower body), out the last six.

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