ST. PAUL, Minn. - Is this the time? Is this the year? Will the Stanley Cup find a home in the State of Hockey?
I wish I had a more uplifting term than that, but it’s the truth. If the Minnesota Wild are going to win the Stanley Cup, a lot of things are going to have to happen. More than I have room for in one article. So, let’s just focus on what it takes to beat the St. Louis Blues (maybe later we can talk about the inevitable meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks).
Stop Vladimir Tarasenko
I don’t care what they say about other things, stopping Taresanko is the Wild’s first and arguably biggest priority. He had 75 points in the regular season. The last time he played the Wild in the post season, he torched them for six goals – including a hat-trick. If they Wild can shut him down, unlike two seasons ago, they vastly increase their chances of winning this series.
The Blues no longer have David Backes and TJ Oshie, forwards that were HUGE in the last series. So, "Stop Vlad and Avoid the Sad" should be the Wild's motto for this opening playoff series
Devan Dubnyk must be huge
Devan Dubnyk must play more like he did in the first half of the season, and less like he did in the second. In the first half, he was a Vezina Trophy candidate with a 27-8-3 record with a 1.88 goals against average. In the second half, Dubnyk was not even close to his self, posting a 13-11-2 record and a 2.82 GAA. Blues coach Mike Yeo knows that Dubnyk can be both outstanding and porous in the same game so expect him to exploit that.
St. Louis will try to clog the shooting lanes and stack as many guys as they can for screens. The Wild must get physical and win battles in front of their own net.
Yeo knows better than anyone that this Wild team can be emotionally fragile at times. All it will take is one big first period by the Blues at the Xcel Energy Center to take the crowd out of the game and get the players second guessing what they are doing. The Wild were 33-11-4 this season when they score first, 13-20-1 when they don't. Even worse, the Wild are 6-13-2 when they trail after the first period. Score early, win often.
All that being said, I believe the Wild stack up better in this series. They have four solid lines all of which have the ability to score and carry the team. In a seven-game post season series, teams almost always win when they get solid scoring from their bottom six forwards. The Wild have that this post season more so than ever.
My prediction? The Minnesota Wild win in six games.
Only then will we have to talk about the Blackhawks...again.