Cleat Geeks

NHL Playoff Series Preview: St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild

Four games were played between the Blues and Wild this season, concluding with a Blues record in the series of 2-2-0 and the Wild, a record of 2-1-1. Their last matchup concluded in a Blues victory, beating the Wild 4-2. This series looks to be a hard fought, and some analysts also have it as one of the most intriguing.

St. Louis Blues:

The Blues are one of four teams in this year’s Playoffs with an extra added advantage. Much like the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Winnipeg Jets; the Blues have both finesse and physical play, as well as four very strong lines. One could even make the case and assert that the Blues are the deepest team in the NHL this season. Few teams like the Blues have players sitting that would otherwise be starting on most of the other teams in the league. Due to this overload of talent, look for Hitchcock to continue tinkering with the lines throughout the Playoffs. Unless of course the Blues power past everyone at a high rate, which is quite unlikely.

In net, talks still continue about who will start for game one. In reference to the Blues, this has been the biggest question heading into the Playoffs. Do the Blues have good enough goaltenders to succeed? Elliott did have a solid outing in the final game of the regular season; a key move by Hitchcock, that gave him a much needed boost from a tough couple of weeks. Elliott has also fared well against the Wild in his career and overall did not have a bad season. On the other side, Allen has played exceptional as of late and shows no signs of slowing up. As media and fans wait for official word, information regarding this situation will continue to be speculation and opinion. Hitchcock is known for making the media wait on his decisions, so don’t expect this one to be any different.

Defense proves to be the only other concern. This is due to a lack of consistency and breakdowns that have cost the Blues some games this season. For instance, odd man rushes into the defensive zone, weak defensive crease presence that fails to allow the goalie clear lanes to see the puck, and failure to move their feet at times (again in the defensive zone) are all issues that have hurt the Blues throughout. The Blues have done a much better job at cleaning these glaring issues up in the last six games of the season and will look to continue this trend of play. They’ll have to, if they hope to go far into the Playoffs.

http://www.nhl.com/ice/series.htm?season=20142015&series=e

Blues vs. Wild Analytics

Minnesota Wild:

Much like the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators, the Minnesota Wild are heading into the Playoffs with a ton of confidence. The main reason for this is goaltender Devan Dubnyk. About three quarters into the season, many experts stated that if Minnesota got into the Playoffs it would be because of Dubnyk (much like Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond). The experts were right, as Dubnyk’s numbers since arriving in Minnesota have been nothing short of outstanding. In the regular season for the Wild, Dubnyk went 27-9-2, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.78 goals against average. His play in net has also allowed the forwards confidence to take chances, they weren’t able to before his arrival.

The Wild are not nearly as physical as the team they’re facing, though they do have the makeup to change the pace of the game. The Wild are a fast paced team that uses their discipline and schemes to push the puck into their offensive zone. The Wild can also be a huge threat once they set up in the offensive zone. They have a strong forecheck and are good at cycling the puck, waiting for an opportunity to send the puck to the blue line while they clog up the crease for opportunities and rebounds in front of the net. The Wild also do a very good job at making teams pay for defensive and line change mistakes.

Prediction:

I see the St. Louis Blues defeating the Minnesota Wild in 6 Games, so long as the Blues play the game they’re very capable of. Preventing odd man rushes, getting bodies in front of Dubnyk and crashing the net are good places to start. Few teams can match up to the Blues strength’s. If the Blues lose this first round matchup, it will be because they beat themselves.

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