NHL First Round Playoff Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Scott Maxwell
April 12 2017 02:45PM

Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a choke-off. 

In one corner, we have the Minnesota Wild, who in four years of making the playoffs, have a grand total of two wins past the first round. In the other corner, we have the St. Louis Blues, who in five years of making the playoffs, finally made it to the Conference Finals last year. Both teams have reputations that they don't want, and this series is a great place to start. The Blues are in a transition period, while the Wild are looking at a closing window.

SEASON SERIES

It was a back and forth series during the season, as it saw the Blues take the first two games, the Wild take the next two, and the Blues win the season finale. However, the last game was the only one after February, so read into it as you will.

The first game saw the Blues playing their second in as many nights while the Wild were playing their first game of the season. However, the Blues were the ones who were victorious, as they won 3-2, with a 36-32 advantage in the shot attempts. They followed it with a 4-3 shootout loss in late November, but despite the close victory, the Blues dominated in shot attempts by a 56-41 margin.

The Wild would respond with a couple wins of their own though. An early December matchup would result in a 3-1 win for Minnesota, although the third was an empty net goal. The Blues would once again have the shot attempts lead though, as they had a 37-36 advantage. They followed that with a 5-1 win in late January, including three points from Nino Niederreiter. While it was a blowout, it was the closest in the shot attempts battle, as the Blues had a 51-50 advantage.

In the season final, it was a very close goalies duel, with the Blues winning 2-1, and Jake Allen stopping 32 of 33. However, the Wild would finally have a lead in the shot attempts, as the Wild had a 49-33 advantage.

What can we take from this series? Well, that it will be a close battle. Whether it's goals or shot attempts, it was either close, or if it was a blowout, the other team would respond. It certainly won't be easy for either team.

WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

Minnesota: 55.82% 5v5 GF%, 49.35% 5v5 CF%, 49.91% 5v5 FF%, 9.2% Sh%, 92.56% Sv%, 21% PP%, 82.9% PK%

St. Louis: 52.74% 5v5 GF%, 50.18% 5v5 CF%, 50.47% 5v5 FF%, 8.39% Sh%, 92.33% Sv%, 21.3% PP%, 84.8% PK%

Once again, it's a close battle. The Wild have the advantage in GF%, while the Blues have an advantage in CF% and GF%. The Wild have the advantage in shooting and save percentage, while the Blue have the special teams advantage on both the power play and penalty kill. It certainly will be tough for either team to truly have an edge over the other team, according to the numbers.

One thing to note though: since the trade deadline, the Wild have been dominant, or at least by the underlying numbers. They lead the league in both CF% and xGF% since the deadline, although it hasn't shown with their record, as they've gone 8-11-2 since then. The Blues aren't far behind, as they are 10th in CF%, and 3rd in xGF%, while going a significantly better 15-3-2 during that frame.

The Wild's biggest strength is their depth. While they have no point scorers above 70 points, Granlund, Staal, Koivu, Niederreiter, Coyle, Zucker, Pominville, and Parise all have more than 40 points, and Hanzal is on a 53.3 point pace since joining the team. On the back end, they have Suter, Spurgeon, Dumba, and Brodin all above 25 points, all while providing solid defense on the blue line. In net, they have Dubnyk, who was a for sure Vezina candidate until his late season slump, but has still yet to truly be bad.

Meanwhile, the Blues have more of a star-oriented offense. They have Tarasenko, one of the best wingers in the league, who put up 75 points this season, more than any of Minnesota's forwards, but after that, it's bare. After Schwartz's 55 points and Steen's 51, the Blues have only three 40 point scorers: Pietrangelo with 48, Perron with 46, and Stastny with 40. However, they have a larger focus on defense, as only 7 skaters who played at least half of the season finished with a sub 50% CF%, all of them being past their prime veterans like Steen and Bouwmeester. In net, they have Allen, who was atrocious for the first half of the season, but a rebound second half led him to raise his save percentage back to his career average.

WHY YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR THE WILD

If you're a fan of seeing a team with what seems to be one of their last shots at winning a Cup win it all, the Wild are your team. With a lot of it's core past it's prime, the future looks bleak for the Wild, especially with their cap situation, so they better make it worth it. Also, it'd be nice to see a good coach like Boudreau win the Cup, along with other vets like Koivu, Parise, Suter, and Pominville.

And I picked them to win the Cup in my bracket. So, cheer them on for your pal Scotty.

WHY YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR THE BLUES

If you're a fan of Russian wingers winning the Cup, but Alex Ovechkin isn't your cup of tea, then Vladimir Tarasenko is the guy for you, even though his Cup window is much larger than Ovi's. However, if you like seeing a coach face his former team, especially the season after getting fired, then root on Mike Yeo and the Blues.

SCHEDULE

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PREDICTION

Wild in 6 games Like I said, I picked them to win it, so I have to go with them. Also, while I think it will be close, I think the Wild's depth will beat out the star power of the Blues. The biggest wild card will be Dubnyk, and whether he plays like a Vezina candidate, or like the Dubnyk of the last couple months. 

Why six games? Because we all know Boudreau isn't winning it if they go to game seven. 

OTHER PREVIEWS

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens 

Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators 

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks 

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I'm just a journalist going to school to get the degree. Follow me at @scotmaxw
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