Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Minnesota Wild and the St.Louis Blues begins tonight at 8:30. The Hockey News has broken down the match-up into a sexy little infograph:
St.Louis has struggled mightily on the power play as of late, but the penalty kill remains one of the league’s best. Minnesota (despite their recent struggles) is one of the finest defensive clubs in the NHL, allowing the 7th-fewest goals against during the regular season. The pressure to compete seriously for a Stanley Cup is suffocating in Minnesota. The fans, the ownership, and the players themselves are hungry for a deep run:
“There’s no doubt the Wild’s best chance of delivering the Stanley Cup to the “State of Hockey” in the organization's 16 years is now and begins Wednesday night against St. Louis Blues.
The Wild, as deep as it has ever been, had its best regular season in franchise history and scored more goal than every team in the West. It was only 6½ weeks ago that General Manager Chuck Fletcher put all his “chips in the middle of the table for this year” and freighted a haul of draft picks to Arizona for Martin Hanzal because “we are taking a swing” for the Cup.
Three players who don’t take part in the soccer warmup are elder statesmen Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They have other means of prepping for games.
But the slogan, “Time is Now,” arguably best describes the Wild’s captain and his two lieutenants.
Koivu is 34 with only one year left on his contract. Parise turns 33 this summer. Suter is 32. After helping lead the Wild to five straight playoff appearances but not yet past the conference semifinals, the veterans have their best chance of winning it all this postseason.” [Star-Tribune]
For the Blues, it’s just about taking things one game at a time. St.Louis has been enjoying a more diversified offensive output from recent call-ups like Ivan Barbashev, who is, for the time being, slated to remain on the top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
“It looks as though the Blues will start with rookie Ivan Barbashev centering Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line. Magnus Paajarvi, Patrik Berglund and David Perron are reunited on the second line, which allows Yeo to use Sobotka on the left wing, Jori Lehtera at center and Alexander Steen at right wing on the third line. (The fourth line stays the same: Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves.)
"To be honest, I'm really excited," Barbashev said, "especially with those guys in the playoffs. It's awesome. I don't know, just really happy about it and I'm looking (forward) to the first playoff game."
Yeo has not hesitated to give the team's youngsters a chance.
"Yeah, he's been doing that since he was here and it's awesome to be honest," Barbashev said. "He gave us a chance and we're just trying to improve."
Steen had been, until recently, centering Schwartz and Tarasenko on the top line.
"You know me, I'm up for anything," Steen told the Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford. "It's a good line. I think throughout this series, you'll probably see some different looks. It depends on whether we're on the road or at home. We'll start getting into details on possible matchups and stuff, but I'm excited. Sobie looked good in his first game. Jori is an extremely smart centerman, very good on faceoffs, so hopefully we start with the puck more often than not and off we go." [STLToday]
The Blues need to pepper Devan Dubnyk with shots early. Dubnyk is an elite goaltender with series-stealing potential, and knocking him off his game within the opening minutes of the first period will be crucial. Besides, the Blues don’t do well when they give up the first goal, (St.Louis is 9-14-2 when trailing in the 1st period, and 20-2-2 when leading) and Minnesota will be sure to capitalize on any mistakes.
Minnesota has an incredibly deep lineup, and four of their forwards (Staal, Grandlund, Niederreiter, and Zucker) have 20 goals on the season. Zach Parise barely missed the cut, potting 19 goals over 69 games. The Wild can roll four dangerous lines, and the Blues will have to stay out of the penalty box, and cut down on defensive-zone turnovers to survive.
Jake Allen can make or break this series for St.Louis. He has rebounded well from his mid-season slump, but it was Parise’s bad-angle goal that sunk the Blues two years ago against this very team. Can Allen steal a game in this series? Can he stifle Parise and Staal? To be blunt; which Jake Allen is going to show up tonight? Mid-season-slump Jake, or post-Hitchcock-firing Jake?