If the NHL season ended right this second, this is the playoff picture for the Western Conference:
These two teams would be meeting up next week. Is this a favorable playoff pairing? Well, it's better than the Blackhawks, I suppose. The Wild have had their way with the Blues - and with the rest of the league - since adding Devan Dubnyk to their team. The Blues have won one out three games so far against the Wild, and needed a shootout to do so.
Ending the season with a win against Minnesota, though, more than serves as a positive way to head into the playoffs. It's a way to keep the Wild in the first wild card position. Because, let's face it, the Ducks aren't losing to the Coyotes tonight, and it would be impressive if the Blackhawks lose to the Avalanche.
Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko are both back in the line-up tonight as a way to work out the rust and kinks before the playoffs. Brian Elliott, too, will be back in the line-up. Said coach Ken Hitchcock to Jeremy Rutherford in this morning's Morning Skate:
"(Allen’s) had a great month," Hitchcock said. "You can’t take anything away from that. Elliott has had a great year. The last month, we probably leaned a little here lately a little bit on Jake. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to use Brian if we have to. We’re more than confident. We’re playing Brian (Saturday) to get him integrated, too. I think we’ve had the best of both worlds here. We’ve had one goalie who’s had a hell of a year and one goalie that’s been on the learning curve and learned a lot and really used that to his strengths in the last month. I think from that standpoint, that’s helped us."
Gee, two goalies who have at least 20 wins. What a terrible position for the Blues to be in. It doesn't matter who the Blues start with in the playoffs. It's not intrigue and it's not drama - it's who Hitch feels will give the Blues the best chance to win that night.
Hitchcock wouldn’t disclose just who would be out of the lineup, only indicating that the streaking line of Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie would not be together (suggesting one or more of them could be out) and acknowledging that Olli Jokinen and Ty Rattie would be in uniform.
"You’ve got to do what’s best for Game 1 of the playoffs right now," Hitchcock said. "What’s best for Game 1 is some guys need to get in and get playing and some guys need to get a little bit healthier. So we’re going to do what’s best for us. We’re still going to ice a lineup that’s capable of winning the hockey game and we expect to play really well. But if we’ve got guys at 70 percent or 80 percent or whatever, we’re not going to ask them to play if we’ve got healthy guys that can."
Might as well get some guys rested up. The Wild - or whoever the Blues play - will make for a tough first round series.