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Western Conference Will Still Be Tough To Win

The Wild vanquished the St. Louis Blues, yes, but the rest of the road to the Stanley Cup Final will be no picnic.

Do the Wild have a good chance to prevail? Or will it be SHOWTIME for Patrick Kane again?
Do the Wild have a good chance to prevail? Or will it be SHOWTIME for Patrick Kane again?
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild, as you know, eliminated the Blues from post-season play yesterday, winning 4-1 at the Xcel Energy Center, and thus moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This is a pretty significant feat- one that I thought was very unlikely for the Wild to pull off. Not just because the Blues are deep. Not just because they were arguably the best team in the Western Conference. But because I truly believed that St. Louis was the worst matchup possible for the Minnesota Wild.

Which they were. Devan Dubnyk was able to hold them off in the end, but the St. Louis Blues came pretty much as advertised. They were able to use their physical, defensive game to stifle the Wild for large stretches, holding Minnesota to the fewest scoring chances of anyone in the playoffs. In addition, even when you keep in mind that the Blues ended up trailing early in a few games, the Blues seemed to really get a lot of offensive chances. You know, pretty much the same as it's been for years now against the Blues.

We can thank Devan Dubnyk and the Blues' own instinct to choke in the playoffs for allowing them to overcome the huge advantage St. Louis usually has over the Wild. With those guys out of the way, and a matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team they seem to play well, are the Wild poised for a Cup run?

Yes, and no.

For sure, no other team should be able to bully the Minnesota Wild, nor are as well-suited to bottle up their deep offensive attack like the Blues. The Wild, as mentioned, have also played Chicago pretty well in recent history. The Wild not only took Chicago to within an overtime of a Game 7 last season, they did it while matching Chicago blow-for-blow in terms of the underlying numbers. This season, we've seen games where the Wild ran, well, Wild all over the Blackhawks, out-chancing them heavily.

But on the other hand, Chicago has two Cup for a reason: They're really good. They struggled down the stretch, particularly when it came to scoring, which made them look like they could possibly exit the playoffs in Round 1. Unfortunately for the Wild, those struggles seemed almost entirely due to the loss of All-World scorer Patrick "SHOWTIME!" Kane, who was out with the same collarbone injury that sidelined Jason Zucker. With Kane back, the Blackhawks overcame shoddy inconsistent goaltending on their part to beat Pekka Rinne 18 times en route to a 6-game victory.

With Patrick Kane back in the lineup, the Blackhawks have 3 forwards (Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa) who are of the caliber of the Wild's best forward, Zach Parise, or even better. Last year, the stars made the difference in this series, as Kane magically found a loose puck to tally the Game 6 Overtime Winner. If it comes down to the star players again, the Wild could easily be left out in the cold.

And should the Wild advance to the Western Conference Final, they will likely (unless logic ceases to exist) face the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are a team that was bolstered at the deadline, when they acquired defensemen James Wisniewski and Simon Despres. Since then, they've enjoyed a level of play above what they were at earlier in the season, and carried that into the playoffs to sweep a good Winnipeg Jets team. Not to mention, they also have All-World players in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks won't be a pushover, either.

So, be happy, Wild fans. Be optimistic- no one could blame you. Have confidence in your team. But if you think the Wild can easily handle either of those teams, do so at your own risk. The Wild can get to the Stanley Cup but it's never, ever, ever going to be easy. Even if you vanquish your biggest threat in Round 1.