I chatted with Joe Bouley of Hockey Wilderness, and we’ve exchanged some questions and answers regarding the Blues’ first round matchup tomorrow night with the Minnesota Wild. My answers to his questions can be found right here, and his, obviously, can be found below.
1) What do you think Bruce Boudreau needs to get the Wild to do so he can get over his playoff hump?
If you look back on his playoff record, he's dealt with superstar players not playing well. Couple that with goaltenders having issues stopping the puck, and Boudreau has really just had issues with his team failing to meet the challenge of the post season. He'll need his Wild team to use their scoring depth to their advantage as well as have Devan Dubnyk return to his December/January form.
2) How high is your confidence in Devan Dubnyk right now?
If the playoffs had started a month ago, I would have had zero doubt in my mind that Dubnyk would have had the edge in a Wild series with just about anyone. After a month of some brutal goaltending, I can't say that I'm all that confident. Now, he has been slowly getting back to form since the calendar flipped to April, but if Dubnyk can't find his game, there isn't anyone behind him that can save the Wild's hopes.
3) How much do you think that the Wilds' depth will play into success against the Blues?
I think it's the one key advantage in the series. Minnesota has been able to find scoring up and down the line up while the Blues have Tarasenko, Berglund, and just a smattering of players after that. Now, the Wild have been taken advantage other teams' Big Knockers knocking. Just look at how Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn have fared against the Wild. If Tarasenko can get the Blues up early, the defensive system by Yeo can steal games.
4) What do you see going differently this year in the post-season as opposed to last season?
Last post-season, the Wild were a battered bunch. They didn't have Zach Parise and didn't have the kind of center depth that they do now. Minnesota was lucky to get the series against the Stars to six games.
This season, the Wild are healthy, they're finding the back of the net (3.21 GF/G), and since the Martin Hanzal trade, are not only controlling scoring chances, but now control shot-attempts. I expect a good series with hopefully Minnesota coming out victorious on the other end.
5) How do the Blues stack up as a first round opponent as compared to the Dallas Stars?
The Dallas Stars had terrible goaltending and a defense that could be exploited...and ultimately were, just not by Minnesota. The Blues have big, tough, physical defensemen, and a goalie who has found another level to his game.
Couple that with Yeo's systems and the Blues are going to be tough as hell to score against.
6) Which players on the Wild are you relying on for secondary offense, and who do the Blues need to shut down to be successful?
Let me go through the list:
Nino Niederreiter had himself a fine season and has found a way to get hot near the end of the regular schedule. He's big, likes to take residence at the top of the crease on the power play and has a wicked wrist shot. Just ask Avalanche fans.
Jason Zucker had a breakout year.
Eric Staal had a great bounce back year.
Erik Haula has found himself on the score sheet more often recently.
Martin Hanzal took a while to acclimate to the Wild, but is finding his groove.
Joel Eriksson Ek, the 2015 first round pick, is back from Sweden and hopes to factor in to the scoring from the fourth line.
The Blues should key in on the line of Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, but there are other lines that will hurt you. But if I were to choose a line that St. Louis should take away, it starts with that one.
7) Is this the first round matchup that you wanted, or would you rather've had the Predators as your opponent?
Great question. The Blues aren't an easy draw, nor should they be taken lightly. That said, we've witnessed first hand the slow, defensive game that Yeo employs and while that can win games, it's not fun to watch. So, for entertainment purposes, we would've liked Nashville, but this series has great storylines and history having just played each other just two seasons ago.
8) Same final question as yours - how do you see the series playing out?
I've said it for a while: Yeo's system can win games, but I feel the Wild's depth will win out. Barring Dubnyk playing like he did in March, I see this going six games and Minnesota winning. Now, that actually differs from other Wild fans on Twitter. Some say that, out of any series, this one has the chance to be a sweep. I just could not disagree more with that line of thinking.
Other, neutral folks on social media have St. Louis winning. I can see why they think that, and can't really defend against it either. It absolutely depends on which Devan Dubnyk shows up.