It’s the middle of April, which usually means the NHL regular season is over and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway. However, due to a scheduled break in the season in February to allow players to play in the Olympics, which of course ended up not happening, the season has been extended through the end of April, with the playoffs set to begin in early May.
For the St. Louis Blues, this lengthening of the season has been a blessing in disguise. After rolling through the first five months of the year, St. Louis endured a brutal month of March that would’ve sent them into the playoffs on a low note in a normal year. The Blues have used this extra time wisely as they seemed to have turned things around after winning their last six games and points in nine straight games.
With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Blues are certain to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and the tenth time in the last eleven seasons. Simply making the playoffs has become the baseline expectation in St. Louis, and now that it is all but official, it’s time to take a look at what the “second season” will look like for the Blues.
Potential First-Round Matchup
As the Blues were reeling in March, it looked like the team could fall out of the top three in the Central Division and into one of the two wild-card spots. While the threat of missing the playoffs entirely was never on the table, a wild card berth would have led to a first-round matchup against one of the two division winners, which would be a tall order right off the bat.
With the division all but wrapped up by the Colorado Avalanche, the Blues are likely to face the Minnesota Wild in the first round. The two teams have occupied playoff spots all season long and as they appear destined to play one another in the first round, the biggest question is which team will have home-ice advantage. As things stand, the two clubs are level on points, although Minnesota does have a game in hand.
While every opponent is to be taken seriously come playoff time, Blues fans should feel confident in a series against the Wild. In the last three seasons, St. Louis is 11-1-1 against Minnesota, including a 6-4 thriller at this year’s Winter Classic. Since the Wild came into the league in 2000, they have met the Blues twice in the playoffs. Minnesota prevailed in six games in the first round of the 2015 playoffs, while the Blues returned the favor in 2017, winning that first-round series in five games.
How Deep Can This Team Go?
If the Blues are able to get past Minnesota and into the second round, they will face off against the winner between the Colorado Avalanche, the Stanley Cup favorite, and the second wild card team. For prediction’s sake, let’s say it is the Blues and Avalanche in the second round. These two teams have been the class of the Central Division for the past few seasons and after meeting in the first round last year, they very well could meet each other again in the second round this season. As the Blues have shifted into a more offensive team the last couple of seasons, it looks like they have assembled a team with the goal of defeating Colorado in mind. The offensive depth combined with solid goaltending (from Ville Husso or Jordan Binnington) gives St. Louis a realistic chance in a series that would likely go seven games.
Colorado is arguably going to be the Blues’ biggest hurdle in their quest for another Stanley Cup. If they are able to defeat both the Wild and Avalanche in the first two rounds, it will be hard to pick against them in the Western Conference Final, no matter the opponent. With the Avalanche on pace for their second consecutive President’s Trophy, it’s safe to say that if the Blues can beat them, they are capable of beating anyone.
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