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The Sports Daily > Crease and Assist
2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Minnesota Wild (49-25-8)  106pts  2nd in the Central

3.21 Goals For Per Game (2nd in the NHL)

2.51 Goals Against Per Game (7th in the NHL)

21% Power Play (9th in the NHL)

82.9% Penalty Kill (8th in the NHL)

51.9% Faceoff Winning Percentage (6th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 26G 43A = 69pts

2. #12 Eric Staal ~ 28G 37A = 65pts

3. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 18G 40A = 58pts

4. #22 Nino Niederreiter ~ 25G 32A = 57pts

5. #3 Charlie Coyle ~ 18G 38A = 56pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #7 Chris Stewart ~ 94 PIM’s

2. #21 Ryan White ~ 84 PIM’s

3. #24 Mathew Dumba ~ 59 PIM’s

Top  Goaltenders:

1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (40-19-5)  2.25GAA  .923%SP  5SO

2. #32 Alex Stalock (1-1-0)  1.51GAA  .944%SP

3. #35 Darcy Kuemper (8-5-3)  3.13GAA  .902%SP

 

 

Vs.

 

St. Louis Blues (46-29-7)  99pts  3rd in the Central

2.84 Goals For Per Game (12th in the NHL)

2.63 Goals Against Per Game (13th in the NHL)

21.3% Power Play (8th in the NHL)

84.8% Penalty Kill (3rd in the NHL)

50.3% Faceoff Winning Percentage (13th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #91 Vladimir Tarasenko ~ 39G 36A = 75pts

2. #17 Jaden Schwartz ~ 19G 36A = 55pts

3. #20 Alex Steen ~ 16G 35A = 51pts

4. #27 Alex Pietrangelo ~ 14G 34A = 48pts

5. #57 David Perron ~ 18G 28A = 44pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #75 Ryan Reaves ~ 104 PIM’s

2. #6 Joel Edmundson ~ 60 PIM’s

3. #57 David Perron ~ 57 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #34 Jake Allen (33-20-5)  2.42GAA  .915%SP  4SO

2. #40 Carter Hutton (13-8-2)  2.39GAA  .913%SP  4SO

Lines:

St. Louis Blues

Schwartz~Barbashev~Tarasenko

Steen~Berglund~Perron

Jaskin~Sanford~Paajarvi

Upshall~Brodziak~Reaves

Bouwmeester~Pietrangelo

Edmundson~Parayko

Gunnarsson~Jo. Schmaltz

Allen

Hutton

Minnesota Wild

Parise~Staal~Niederreiter

Granlund~Koivu~Zucker

Coyle~Hanzal~Pominville

Stewart~Haula~White

Suter~Spurgeon

Scandella~Dumba

Brodin~Folin

Dubnyk

Kuemper / Stalock

Series Schedule (all times are listed in Central Standard Time)

Game #1: Wednesday April 12th, 8:30PM Blues @ Wild (NBCSN, SN 360)

Game #2: Friday, April 14th, 7PM Blues @ Wild (NBCSN, SN 360)

Game #3: Sunday, April 16th, 3PM Wild @ Blues (NBC, Sportsnet)

Game #4: Wednesday, April 19th, 8:30PM Wild @ Blues (NBCSN, SN 360)

*Game #5: Saturday, April 22nd, TBD Blues @ Wild (TBD)

*Game #6: Monday, April 24th, TBD Wild @ Blues (TBD)

*Game #7: Wednesday, April 26th, TBD Blues @ Wild (TBD)

*- if necessary

Storylines abound in this playoff series.  Head Coach Mike Yeo‘s return after being let go by the Wild a season ago, former players from both squads facing their old clubs (Chris Stewart, Kyle Brodziak), and of course the history from the last time the two clubs faced one another in the playoffs which resulted in a Wild victory.  Needless to say I think we’ll see a very spirited series.

For Yeo, he is probably as motivated as any Blues player or fan to try to see St. Louis prevail if anything to prove the naysayers wrong in Minnesota.  His son Kyler, this year a senior at Hill-Murray High School took a ton of abuse after his father was axed by the club and no doubt there is probably some level of spite in beating his former employer.

On the other side of the coin, Bruce Boudreau has earned a lot of praise for allowing the team to experience a bit of an offensive renaissance that had the team score the highest amount of goals in team history not to mention its best record.  Boudreau knows that regular season success is what he’s known for, but almost as much he’s known as playoff under-performer which is something he’s eager to shed.  There is a great article in the Hockey News which talks about this strange trend in Boudreau’s coaching career as well as a few signs of why it might be different this time around.

The Blues got a boost when they fired Ken Hitchcock in favor of Yeo who was the Head Coach in waiting as Hitchcock said he was retiring at the end of this season.  Even though the team dealt Kevin Shattenkirk away (which we’ll talk about more later) the team got better goaltending from Jake Allen and Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal scoring touch returned and they were able to turn their season around.  Tarasenko has typically performed pretty well for the Wild and no doubt Erik Haula will likely draw the assignment to shut him down.  Another player the Wild would be wise to watch for is Jaden Schwartz who has also haunted Minnesota in the past.  Alex Steen, David Perron and Christian Berglund also have their moments offensively.  There also might be a small ace up the Blues sleeve as they signed Vladimir Sobotka out of the KHL.  Sobotka provides speed, grit and at times he can score in the clutch as well.  What sort of role he’ll play with the Blues this post-season is uncertain.

On the blueline, Shattenkirk’s loss is most notable on the power play.  Beyond that, the Blues defense corps is full of big, fairly mobile players led by Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, and veteran Jay Bouwmeester.  The group is fairly physical, but can be exploited by quicker players if they’re willing to pay the price to go into the tough areas of the ice.  Jake Allen is a lot like Devan Dubnyk, where at times he can be almost impregnable at others guilty of giving up a soft goal or two.

Dubnyk will likely be the key to the series for the Minnesota Wild.  If he plays as he did during the 1st half of the season the Wild should be in great shape.  If he’s more akin to being the .890-880% save percentage goalie we’ve seen in this last quarter of the season the Wild will be in big trouble.  If he can’t make it happen, I would not be surprised to see the Wild give a shot to Alex Stalock.  Darcy Kuemper had a decent start in the last game of the year against the Coyotes but I think Boudreau would rather give Stalock the nod in a high-pressure situation.

The Wild’s offense may not have the star power of other playoff clubs, but they make up for it with tremendous scoring depth as they feature five players with at least 20 goals, and 8 other players who are at least double digits in goals.  That gives the Wild 3 decent scoring lines making them far tougher to match up against.  The line of Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker have really come into their own this season and will likely be reunited for the post-season.  Zach Parise is starting to heat up and Eric Staal seems to be catching fire again too.  This has been a season of redemption for Staal who has really given the team tremendous stability down the middle.  Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle also bring some scoring and ability to play within the team’s top 9.

On the blueline, the Wild rested up Jared Spurgeon the last two games and have a mostly healthy group.  Spurgeon and Mathew Dumba are both in double digits in goals and workhorse Ryan Suter has 9 goals of his own.  Suter, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin must be strong in and around the crease for a group that is not known for being particularly stout.  Jonas Brodin will also be a big part of the effort to try and shut down Tarasenko.

The season series between he two clubs was a near even split with 2-2-1 record.  Both teams won games at home at the other’s rink so home-ice advantage may not be such a big deal in this series.  So what must the Minnesota Wild do to win this series?

  1. Shutdown Tarasenko ~ This might sound a lot easier said than done, but the Wild must find a way to shut him down or limit his amount of high danger chances.  He’s a talented player who is used to playing against teams scheming against him, but he is the one true game breaker in this series.  If Minnesota can limit him, their chances of success goes up considerably.
  2. Embrace the battle ~ Boudreau talked about his club needing to embrace the challenge of facing elite teams late in the season, now the Wild must ’embrace’ winning the races to loose pucks and being strong in the tough areas in around the crease.  The Wild will not score if they stick to the perimeter.  They must work their way in close and pay the price to bury the biscuit.  Equally so, they also must do what they can to keep the Blues to the perimeter as much as they can.  St. Louis is not quite the big heavy club they used to be, so the challenge might be a bit easier.
  3. Be disciplined ~ The Blues are a team that has never minded the after-whistle scrum nonsense.  Minnesota cannot get caught into that trap and end up getting sent to the box for a foolish retaliatory penalty.  St. Louis is pretty decent on the power play, but you don’t want to give the Blues too many chances.  Minnesota would also be wise and play a fast, up-tempo game and draw some penalties on the Blues to help wear them down.

I feel good about this series and I think Koivu, Staal and Martin Hanzal‘s size and strength in the faceoff circle will pay off considerably in this series.  I am predicting the Wild win this one in 6 games.  How do you see this series turning out?  Post a comment below or send it to us on Twitter @CreaseandAssist!