The Minnesota Wild are a different team this year than they ever have been, and their first-round opponent knows that.
In a pre-playoff interview, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong acknowledged the Wild’s season and how their last 82 games have gone — which, obviously, they finished above his team, so that’s something.
“They’re a good team,” Armstrong said of his first-round opponents via the St. Louis Dispatch. “They’ve been a good team all year long. They have a belief in themselves — they manufacture wins. They seem to score a lot late in games, so they have a belief that they can score when needed. A lot like our team.
“I like their balance. They have an explosive player (Kirill Kaprizov) — a coming out party. This guy’s gonna go through this for the first time. It’s gonna be a heck of a series. ... I don’t view us as favorites. But I also don’t view us as underdogs. And I assume, they would see it the same way.”
The series, that starts on Monday night, is certainly one of the more even ones on-paper around the NHL. Both teams play a hard-hitting north-south style with some focus on finishing talent and depth at the forward position. It’s going to be a grind and we all are aware of it.
In the summer, Wild GM Bill Guerin decided to make the difficult decision, changing his entire leadership within in the locker room and shaking the team at its core, to try and get some more success on the ice. Armstrong also recognized the gutsy move by Guerin and how it has changed the atmosphere around his opponents.
“The transformation of Minnesota to me — when they made those hard decisions last summer of releasing (Zach) Parise and (Ryan) Suter, they totally changed the dynamic of their team,” Armstrong said. “So anything prior to this year doesn’t count because their leadership group has changed, their core group has changed in who they count on to perform.
“Then I look at this season’s series. We played one game at 20-below zero. And we played two games into overtime. ... When you win in overtime in the NHL in the regular season, it doesn’t reflect the team because it’s a skills competition with the best players against the best players.”
Regular-season records are used as an initial measuring stick in any playoff series, but, as Armstrong himself points out, while the Blues’ record over the Wild this season is 3-0-0, the one win in regulation was during the frigid Winter Classic, and the other two took 3-on-3 overtimes, which isn’t even a thing in the post-season.
Safe to say, he’s throwing out the record, so we shall do that as well.
At least it feels good to not be considered any type of underdog anymore and have the management of your opponent second-guess some decisions and make sure their team was constructed well enough to take on The Minnesota Wild.