2015 NHL playoffs: Blues vs. Wild first round series preview
Regular season series recaps
November 29: Blues 3, Wild 2
March 14: Wild 3, Blues 1
March 21: Blues 3, Wild 6
April 11: Blues 4, Wild 2
Keys to a Blues victory
Let me just shake the Cliché Magic 8-Ball here ... to win this series the key for the Blues is to ... “play their game!” Of course! Indeed, this St. Louis team is one that lives and dies by the execution of Ken Hitchcock’s system, which demands relentless pressure when playing without the puck. While the Blues are stylistically different than the recently dethroned Kings, their path to the Cup will have to resemble the one L.A. trod last year: deploying a punishing team game augmented by a few offensive game breakers. (Here, the role of Marian Gaborik will be played by Vladimir Tarasenko; their Justin Williams is yet to be cast.)
The Wild love to play with the puck, so the Blues’ No. 1 job will be keeping it deep in Minnesota’s end. Once on the attack, though, the Blues can't simply rely on Tarasenko to snipe. Devan Dubnyk seems to be reaching historic levels of comfort and confidence in the Wild’s net. The guys in the blue shirts need to set up a forward operating base in the similarly-colored paint.
Keys to a Wild victory
Dubnyk is the easy answer. His effect on the Wild has been transformative: They were 18-19-5 on January 14, reeling on a six-game losing streak. With Dubnyk starting every game but one the rest of the way, they went 28-8-3. This result was no coincidence: He was brilliant.
But it’s easy to underrate the rest of this Wild team as a result of the goalie’s play. Dubnyk’s effect was so dramatic precisely because its goaltending was so abysmal before he arrived. Even with just an average to above-average Dubnyk, the Wild could pull this series out on the strength of their possession game and scoring depth. They’re not the Canadiens—a decent team that is over-reliant on its netminder. Minnesota is a very good club for whom any amount of competent goaltending may be enough.
Despite their best efforts to rest him during the season’s final week, Dubnyk will run out of gas. He’ll perform admirably but the depth and grinding nature of the Blues’ forwards will overwhelm the more free-wheeling Wild. Blues in seven.