The St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild matchup in the 2022 NHL Playoffs should be exciting to watch. Despite the Blues winning all three regular-season matchups, do not count the Wild out. Two of those three games were decided in overtime. Also, keep in mind that the blues have yet to play at Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild are 31-8-2. However, each team is solid throughout all four lines and defensive pairings. The goaltending for each team will be an exciting game of its own to keep an eye on. The series will be one of the matchups sure to be exciting and entertaining for fans and non-fans alike.
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Each team has two goalies who can make plays if needed. However, the Wild might hold a slight advantage, not just because of Marc-Andre Fleury. Cam Talbot has been a steady presence in the net, but once the Wild acquired Fleury, his play appeared to lift to the next level. Although Talbot will likely be the starter, it does not negate the playoff experience and knowledge Fleury offers. If Talbot is not doing well, the Wild and their fans are safe knowing they have Fleury.
With the Blues, the goaltending is not entirely as set in stone. Ville Husso will undoubtedly be the starter, having taken the starting position from Jordan Binnington, who helped lead the Blues to the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup. Binnington has not played well this season, which has allowed Husso to have more time in net. Binnington does have the playoff experience, but with his play during the regular season, it might not mean much unless Husso either plays poorly or is injured.
St. Louis has been known as a team with a strong defense. However, lately, the Wild has also started delivering in that department. They have Jonas Brodin, one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL. Also, do not forget that Minnesota has Jared Spurgeon, who is considered a true No. 1 defender. Along with the other Wild defensemen, these two have successfully defended the blue line and have shown to be good offensive, puck-moving blueliners.
The Blues’ Colton Parayko has been inconsistent the past few years, and there have been issues with finding the right partner for him. He is the best defensive defenseman for the Blues, but he has still had problems with turnovers and poor decision-making. Justin Faulk is suitable on the second pairing, but these two and the rest of the defensive core for the Blues have not been as great lately as the Wild have. Nick Leddy might be one to watch for the Blues; he has an offensive upside which might be what the Blues need, especially on the power play.
The Blues have the advantage when it comes to special teams. They have been focusing on quality over quantity, putting their power play at second overall in the league. They are fifth in league with their penalty kill. Compare that with the Wild’s penalty kill is fifteenth in the league, and their power play is eighteenth. The Wild are the third-most penalized team in the league. They will need to stay out of the penalty box to keep from giving the Blues the advantage.
The Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly is one of the best two-way centers in the game, and when combined with Brandon Saad and David Perron, they might be the most slept on line. With Saad’s consistent scoring and Perron being on a streak the latter part of the season, they might be the Blues’ secret weapon. However, do not forget about Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, and Vladimir Tarasenko. This line like to shoot on the goal and has had tremendous success. The bottom two lines for the blues are still threats despite the decrease in talent.
The Wild have Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, who are two of the best finishers on the team. Kaprizov became the first player in Wild history to score 100 points. He had 47 goals this season, which led the Wild and was fifth in the NHL. Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, and Jordan Greenway are absolutely the best for the Wild when it comes to defending. They’ve been a dominant line for the team and will be needed to help shut the Blues down. Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman are not to be forgotten as well, and while they are not as productive as Kaprizov, they help give the Wild a solid top six.
Essentially the teams are evenly matched on offense when it is 5-on-5. Each team has forwards who can score and be responsible defensively in their own end. It will come down to which team’s offense will show up, and not just in Game 1.
The Wild will be relying on Kaprizov to make plays and score goals, which he is more than capable of. Last season he had two goals in the playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights. If he can up his game for this playoff run, he will help give the Wild an advantage over the Blues. Meanwhile, on the other side, the Blues have Husso. He has no postseason experience, but his stats show he is more than capable. If Husso can shut down the Minnesota offense, he may be able to steal the series for the Blues.
St. Louis might have an edge in coaching since Craig Berube has experience beyond the first round. His first season with the Blues was the 2018-19 season, and they won the Stanley Cup. However, the past two playoffs have been a one-and-done for him and the Blues. On the other hand, Dean Evason has yet to get past the first round. Although that might not mean much since he took over the coaching duties in the 2019-20 season after Bruce Boudreau was let go. With the 2020-21 season being a shortened one also, this is his first full 82-game season as head coach. Berube’s experience will only be a difference-maker if he can use it to get his team to outperform the Wild.
Minnesota has the chance to win the series if they can keep themselves out of the penalty box. As mentioned previously, they are the third most penalized team during the regular season, and keep in mind that the Blues led the NHL in 5-on-4 goals with 63. If the Blues can get the goaltending situation figured out, they will have a chance. Both teams stack up well in all areas, but the little things will trip one of the teams up in the series. Both the Wild and the Blues are playing their best, so it will be a fight to the finish.
Series Prediction: Minnesota 4-3
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