Going into the final day of the regular season, Minnesota's potential playoff foe had been narrowed down to St. Louis, Anaheim or Nashville. The best scenario would have been the Predators - and Chicago even did their part to help the Wild by falling 3-2 to Colorado in regulation - but a 4-2 loss to the Blues in St. Louis narrowed it down to the "Notes" and Ducks. Anaheim beat Arizona, clinching the top seed in the West, and so St. Louis it was.
This Week's Schedule
Thursday 8:30 PM @ St. Louis Blues (NBCSN, TVA, SN360)
Saturday 2:00 PM @ St. Louis Blues (NBC, TVA, SN)
Key Player of the Week
Obviously, Devan Dubnyk is the logical choice. However, if there was anything we learned from Saturday afternoon's regular season finale, it's that Minnesota desperately needs its top defenseman in the lineup. Granted, no one wanted to get hurt from playing too aggressively, but there were a few Blues goals that might have been prevented with speedy back-checking and the sound veteran defensive presence of Ryan Suter.
In 77 games played this season, Minnesota's assistant captain had two goals, 38 points and a plus-7 rating while skating a league-high average ice-time of 29:03 per game. He's not perfect, but he's the best defensive rear guard the Wild have, and, along with Jonas Brodin, he'll see major time shutting down St. Louis' top guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, T.J. Oshie, David Backes and others. He's a vital part of Minnesota's successful penalty kill, but has to step it up on the power play, which has struggled like no other under new assistant coach Andrew Brunette this season.
Regardless of power play woes, Suter's role as one of the NHL's leading shutdown defensive rear guards is vitally important for a team just now discovering success against the Blues. The Wild have dominated opponents on the road in recent months. In order for them to come home with two wins or an even series in the bag, Suter will have to be at the very top of his game.
Key Opponent of the Week
Tarasenko leads the Blues with 37 goals, 73 points and a plus-27 rating, which also has him as the league's 10th-leading point scorer, 14 points back of Jamie Benn's 87 points. He's flashy, perhaps the flashiest young sniper in the division. In 179 career games with St. Louis, the Russian has 66 goals, 135 points and a plus-48 rating. He also had four goals, including two on the power play, in the Blues' 4-2 Western Conference quarterfinal loss to Chicago last year.
The Blues are going to be a tough opponent. They have decent goaltending, their ever-impressive blue line and a physically imposing forward corps, all of which make them a team that can knot up a playoff series in all out war. A guy like Tarasenko, however, can break a series open with highlight reel goals and/or a couple of game-winners if he can't be contained by the defense. That said, the former 16th overall pick will probably be spending a lot of time shadowed by Minnesota's Suter and his d-partner Jonas Brodin. Who knows, the trio might even become best friends. "People let me tell you bout my best friends..."