NHL playoffs first look: Blues-Wild should be tight

April 27, 2022 08:19 PM

Entering play Tuesday, the NHL’s only playoff matchup set in stone is Blues-Wild. Home ice is still up for grabs, but the division rivals will meet as the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the Central. 

The teams will meet for the third time in the last eight postseasons, with the series serving as a rubber match (Wild won in 2015, Blues in 2017). The rosters are much different, though, and only a handful of players were around the last time these teams went head-to-head in the playoffs. 

The Blues won all three matchups this season, although the Wild didn’t play any of those games on home ice. The first meeting took place on New Year’s Day at Target Field, and history suggests home-ice advantage doesn’t exist outdoors. The next two games were in St. Louis, and both went to overtime.

The Wild should be punished for their inability to defeat the Blues, especially since all three games took place in this calendar year, but how much? The Wild were awful in the Winter Classic, but they had been off for almost two weeks, and although they lost to the Blues twice in April, they outshot them in both games and owned 55% of the combined expected goals. Plus, they picked up a point in both road games.

There isn’t much separating these teams. The Blues are one of the hottest teams in the league on offense over their last 25 games, scoring at a rate of 4.4 goals per 60 minutes, but the Wild aren’t far behind. The Wild are scoring at a rate of 3.75 goals per 60 minutes over their last 25 games, placing them firmly inside the top 10. 

Health is a concern for the Wild, as several key players have missed time due to injury. Forward Jordan Greenway and defenseman Matt Dumba have been out since early April, and Jared Spurgeon and Mats Zuccarello recently joined them on the injured list. Greenway, Spurgeon and Zuccarello should be ready for the playoffs, but coach Dean Evason said he’s unsure if Dumba will be ready for Game 1, which makes it tougher to handicap the series right now. I’m going to assume all four players will be back in the lineup next week. 

Another unknown is the starting goaltenders. The Wild acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline, but the team has given equal time to Fleury and Cam Talbot. The two goaltenders have both played a little more than 540 minutes since March 22, and it’s unclear who Evason will start in Game 1. While I do believe the Blues will likely start Ville Husso, I wouldn’t be shocked if they go with Jordan Binnington. Husso has had a better season, but over the last few months, the two goaltenders have been in a dead heat. Husso has played twice as many games as Binnington, though, and it looks like he’s their guy for now. 

According to my model, the Blues are slightly better than the Wild, and therefore, they’d be a small favorite on neutral ice. However, if the Wild end up with home-ice advantage, it’s closer to a toss-up, assuming the Wild are healthy. This should be a great series between two evenly matched teams that combined for at least seven goals in all three meetings this season.

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