The Minnesota Wild have waited 6 months for the playoffs to arrive. That’s what it’s all about, right? Nobody cares about the regular season. There aren’t any big statements about who wins the regular season other than only 8 of the 28 teams who’ve received the President’s Trophy for the best regular-season record have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. That’s a pretty big statement, huh?
Really, this is what we’ve all been waiting for. The regular season can be fun and obviously, there’s an importance to the regular season but there’s just nothing like the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’re biased, of course, because we love hockey but we still believe there’s nothing like it. The physical toll it takes on teams and players to win 16 games over four 7-game series of hockey is just extraordinary. The quest for 16 wins starts tonight for the Minnesota Wild as they play the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
The Wild upset the Blues in 2015 when the Blues won the Central Division and the Wild were a Wild Card team. That series went Wild (Away), Blues (Home) Wild (H), Blues (A), Wild (A), and Wild (H). The tables have now kind of been turned yet Mike Yeo is still the underdog. He’s been on the winning side of an upset in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has that experience. He also knows the majority of the players on the Wild roster.
Some might look at Bruce Boudreau and question his playoff (& Game 7) results. He’s only made it to the 3rd round once, in 2014-15, losing to eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks. For some reason, he hasn’t fared well in Game 7s (1-7), either. Every one of those was at home, too.
So, is it his coaching philosophy? Does it work in the playoffs? Coaches can have a huge impact on a team, in the system they run, in the lines they put on the ice, in the way they treat the players, in the adjustments they make during a game and a series, and in the game plans they set up for each game or series. All that being said, it’s up to the players to execute the system and the game plans. You win with players. A coach can’t score, block a shot or make a save from the bench.
The Wild scored the 2nd most goals in the entire league and had 12 players score more than 10 goals for a total of 218 goals. They have more players that can score goals spread across all 4 lines. They also were very good defensively with a very mobile defense that prioritizes getting the puck out of the zone. Until March, Devan Dubnyk was considered one of the top choices to win the Vezina Trophy given to the best goalie in the league. He and the Wild did struggle during the month of March but they appeared to have gotten their game back in April. They’ll need a good series from Dubnyk to win.
The Wild were also the best team in the Western Conference (Pittsburgh was the only team ahead of them) in even strength 5-on-5 situations so staying out of the box will be a big part of taking control and winning this series. They have a good penalty kill but, of course, you’d rather not test it.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues had 10 players score more than 10 goals for a total of 179 goals, with Vladimir Tarasenko scoring 39 of those 179 goals. Tarasenko is, of course, that superstar player that can make or break a series. He knows how to find time and space and he has one of the best shots in the league. The Blues were 5th in 5-on-5 scoring but only had a +9 differential when even strength.
The Blues are a hard team to judge because of the coaching change. They looked like a team that wouldn’t make the playoffs under Ken Hitchcock. They even traded away one of their top defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk. Fortunately, they caught fire under Mike Yeo, which Wild fans can associate with as they were very excited a couple years ago with their team under Mr. Yeo. Their defense and goaltending were great down the stretch, making them a tough opponent in the playoffs.
The Minnesota Wild have home ice advantage for only the second time in franchise history. Home ice should be an advantage. Every team would take playing at home over playing on the road but once the puck drops, it might not matter that much other than the Wild getting the last change so they can get the matchups they want against the Blues top lines. The crazy State of Hockey fans may have something to say about that, though.
The X-Factor for Each Team
Which player for each team can be the game changer, the player that can change the series for their team? For the Minnesota Wild, it’s Charlie Coyle. He’s built for the playoffs. He needs to play his game, be physical and shoot the puck. If he does that, he’ll make this series easier for the Wild to win. For the St. Louis Blues, it’s Ivan Barbashev. He’s centering the top line as a rookie in his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the stage isn’t too big for him, he can make a huge impact in this series. He had to do better in the faceoff circle to start off with. 40% isn’t going to cut it in the Playoffs.
This should be a fun series but we’re going with the Minnesota Wild in 6 games. They just appear to have more depth offensively and have played very well defensively against the Blues, and Vladimir Tarasenko, this season.
Enjoy the series and all of the first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and remember….