The NHL’s regular season is coming to a close which means it is finally playoff time, with the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs scheduled to begin on Monday. Potentially the best matchup of the first round will feature the St. Louis Blues as they take on the Minnesota Wild. The home-ice advantage is yet to be determined with the two sides tied in points with Minnesota having two games remaining on Thursday and Friday and St. Louis with one game remaining on Friday.
A matchup between two division rivals who have been the league’s two hottest teams in the month of April, St. Louis vs. Minnesota looks to be a gruelling first-round series. It is plausible to see the winner of the series go on to win the Western Conference, while on the flip side, one team and fanbase with serious Stanley Cup aspirations will be going home after round one.
Looking at recent history, the Blues should feel great about their matchup against the Wild. St. Louis is 13-1-2 in their last fifteen games against Minnesota, including 3-0-0 this season. However, the playoffs are a completely different animal and the Wild are not to be taken lightly. With an offensive attack led by the 100-point scorer, Kirill Kaprizov, and a dynamic duo in net between Cam Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury, it’s hard to imagine this series doesn’t go all seven games.
Projected Game 1 Lineup
With both teams featuring elite offensive firepower, what may give the Blues the edge is their depth up the middle. Much of the Wild’s offence comes from their top line, which will undoubtedly be matched up against the O’Reilly line throughout the series. The Thomas line has been one of the best in the league late in the season, with all three players eclipsing seventy points on the year. While the Schenn line is technically the third line on paper, it could be the second line on many teams in the playoff field. To top it all off, the veteran presence on the fourth line provided by Bozak is a piece that every true Stanley Cup contender needs.
While the forward lines appear to be set, the defensive pairs have been in flux with injuries late in the season. Thankfully for the Blues, they are looking to have all six of their top defensemen ready to go for Game 1. It will be interesting to see which defensemen see the most ice time against the Wild’s top offensive units. The most likely scenario is that Parayko will be on the ice for a majority of the time that Kaprizov and company are, leaving the offensive zone starts for playmakers like Krug and Faulk, the latter enjoying his best offensive season as a Blue, with an impressive sixteen goals from the backend this season.
The decision on who will mind the net to start the first-round series has not yet been announced, though it looks likely that Husso will get the nod. What started off as a good run of form filling in for an injured Binnington early in the season, Husso has turned in a career year, projecting to finish in the top five in both goals-against average and save percentage amongst all goaltenders. He has earned the trust of the Blues coaching staff and as a pending unrestricted free agent, he has the opportunity to set himself up for a large payday with a great performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Having a goaltender with a championship to his name as a backup plan doesn’t sound too bad for the Blues, though it will be surprising if Binnington doesn’t start at least one game in this series.
As I mentioned before, the playoffs are a completely different obstacle from the regular season and the Wild should not be taken lightly. With that being said, I like the Blues to win this series in six games. These teams are very evenly matched and it would not be surprising to see multiple overtime games in this series, but I think the center depth and the overall experience that the Blues roster has will give them the edge. It will truly be a shame to see either side bow out after only one round, which has once again raised questions about the league’s current playoff format, though that’s a discussion for another day.
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