The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived, so have Puck Daddy’s preview of all playoff series. Enjoy!
For a while, it was looking like the Minnesota Wild were going to find themselves atop the Western Conference standings after a fabulous regular season. Their regular season overall was great (49-25-8, 106 pts., 2nd in the Central) but Bruce Boudreau’s charges struggled mightily in March as a three-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks suddenly became a nine-point deficit when the calendar turned to April.
But the Wild rebounded after that 4-10-2 slump to finish with four wins in their final five games, setting up a date with the Blues in what could also be known as the Mike Yeo Bowl.
The Blues had a newsworthy regular season on several fronts. First, Ken Hitchcock and goaltending coach Jim Corsi were fired because Jake Allen was not getting it done, leading St. Louis to have the fourth-most goals allowed on Feb. 1. Yeo was promoted a season earlier than expected and Allen came around putting up a .941 even strength save percentage in 25 starts after Hitchcock’s firing compared to the gross .899 ESSV prior to that.
Three weeks later, after failing to work out an extension, GM Doug Armstrong decided to get what he could for Kevin Shattenkirk by dealing him to the Washington Capitals. And to top it all off, the Vladimir Sobotka saga finally came to an end as he re-joined the team after three seasons in the KHL and inked a three-year extension.
Minnesota Wild (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)
• Wednesday, April 12, 9:30 p.m. ET: Blues @ Wild | NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports
• Friday, April 14, 8 p.m. ET: Blues @ Wild | NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports
• Sunday, April 16, 3 p.m. ET: Wild @ Blues | NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
• Wednesday, April 19, 9:30 p.m. ET: Wild @ Blues | NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports
• *Saturday, April 22, TBD: Blues @ Wild | TBD
• *Monday, April 24, TBD Wild @ Blues | TBD
• *Wednesday, April 26, TBD Blues @ Wild | TBD
3 KEYS FOR THE WILD
1 – Get Devan’s Groove Back. Minnesota’s March swoon affected the lineup from top to bottom, especially Dubnyk, who likely cost himself the Vezina Trophy. But like all good things, all bad things come to an end as he helped the Wild win his final three regular season starts. If the Dubnyk from October to March is back to form, that’s great news for the Wild.
2 – Balanced Effort. Five 20-goal scorers. Eleven players with at least 35 points. It’s not about the Blues trying to shut down one high-powered line. The Wild will attack with depth.
3 – Good Health. The Wild have been very healthy with one of the lowest man games lost numbers in the league this season. They didn’t have Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek for their first-round loss to the Dallas Stars a year ago. Their depth can help overcome any injuries that come up.
*4 – Avoid a Game 7 because, well, you know.
3 KEYS FOR THE BLUES
1 – Speaking of health… Paul Stastny has missed 10 games with what’s believed to be a broken foot. It’s unclear when or if he’ll return this postseason. Robert Bortuzzo has missed five games with an upper-body injury. Nail Yakupov has sat our four in a row. Yeo will have to jumbled his lines until his roster returns to full health. That’ll mean rookie Ivan Barbashev probably centering the top line.
2 – Extend the Success. No team is hotter entering the playoffs than the Blues. They finished the regular season on a 15-2-2 run which should make them forget about their struggles during the season. Yeo has fixed what was ailing them and coupled with Allen’s turnaround, St. Louis is hoping momentum works in their favor.
3 – Prevent an early jump. The Wild were fourth in the NHL with 75 first-period goals, which helped them to a 27-4-2 record when leading after 20 minutes. The Blues were 9-14-2 when trailing after one.
5 STATS OF NOTE
1 – Since the March 1 trade deadline, the Blues have the third-best penalty kill at 87.7 percent, while the Wild posted a respectable 81.1 percent kill rate. Meanwhile, St. Louis also has the better power play over that period at 18.9 percent, compared to Minnesota’s 16.1 percent.
2 – Both teams were close in the possession game during the regular season. The Blues were a 50.5 percent Fenwick side, while the Wild finished at 49.9 percent, per Corsica.
3 – Martin Hanzal has fit in nicely since being dealt at the deadline from Arizona. He has 13 points in 20 games with the Wild and has won 58 percent of his faceoffs.
4 – Vladimir Tarasenko fired 286 shots at goaltenders this season, scoring 39 times; 30 of those came at even strength. It sounds like Erik Haula will have the honor of trying to shut him down. Will he be able to?
5 – Only the Penguins (278) scored more even strength goals than the Wild (263). The Blues tallied 233.
Wild in 5. Despite a March slump that may have cost Bruce Boudreau and Devan Dubnyk NHL awards, the Wild can now wipe the slate and reset and get back to winning ways. You need your depth to step up this time of year and Minnesota has that.
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