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Round 1

Wild vs. Blues playoff preview

Minnesota likely to rely on Devan Dubnyk against Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Minnesota Wild (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3) 

Season series: St. Louis 3-2-0

Last playoff meeting: 2015 Western Conference First Round; Wild won series 4-2

All-time playoff series: Wild lead 1-0

 

[RELATED: Wild-Blues coverage | Parise is Wild's X-factor | Why Blues will win Cup]

 

How they got here

The Minnesota Wild, who appeared destined to win the Central Division before slipping in the second half of the season and finishing second at 49-25-8 (106 points), face the St. Louis Blues, who finished third in the Central at 46-29-7 (99 points) after firing coach Ken Hitchcock following a 24-21-5 start and replacing him with former Wild coach Mike Yeo (2011-16).

The best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series begins at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports).

The Wild are appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fifth straight year but for the first time under coach Bruce Boudreau, who got the job last May after five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. The Wild face the Blues, who have qualified for the playoffs six seasons in a row, and last season reached the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001, losing in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

Video: Wild vs Blues First Round Preview

 

5 storylines

Devan Dubnyk does it again: His first half was better than his second, but Dubnyk had another solid season, becoming the first goalie in Wild history to win 40 games in a season, posting a 2.25 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. It could be enough to earn him some votes for the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goalie, but Dubnyk surely is more interested in helping the Wild win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Vladimir Tarasenko's explosiveness: Tarasenko is a threat to score every time he's on the ice. The 25-year-old nearly scored 40 goals for a second straight season, falling two shy. He played a huge role in helping the Blues reach the conference final last spring, when he had 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 20 playoff games.

Eric Staal's resurgence: Some may have thought Staal's best days were behind him, but the three-year, $10.5 million contract he signed with the Wild on July 1 has proved to be a bargain; the 32-year-old center had 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in his first season with the Wild. Staal, who helped the Carolina Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup in 2006, brings a winning pedigree and likely will play in all situations for the Wild this postseason.

Video: MIN@ARI: Staal nets one-timer from circle for PPG

Jake Allen shines in second half: It's been an up-and-down season for Allen, who struggled at times during the first half and was left behind for a three-game road trip to help get him out of his mental funk. But the 26-year-old goalie bounced back in a big way in the second half, winning 16 games from Feb. 2 until the end of the regular season.

Ryan Suter's always out there: If you're a Blues fan and don't know much about the Wild's No. 1 defenseman, you'll know plenty by the end of this series. Suter is a workhorse for the Wild and has no issues in playing in excess of 30 minutes per game. With the playoffs upon us, expect his workload to only increase.

 

By the numbers

13: Points Wild center Martin Hanzal had in 20 games after being traded by the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 26. Hanzal is solid at both ends of the ice and will need to contribute in this series. This will be the first time he's played in the postseason since 2012, when he had three goals and three assists in 12 games for the Coyotes.

20: Goals Dubnyk allowed in the Western Conference First Round last season against the Dallas Stars, who defeated the Wild in six games. Dubnyk allowed fewer than three goals once in the series. That will have to change this time around if the Wild are going to get past the first round.

286: Shots on goal Tarasenko had this season. He scored 40 goals on 292 shots last season.

Video: COL@STL: Tarasenko snipes a wrister past Pickard

 

In the spotlight

Wild: Mikael Granlund, forward -- Granlund, 25, took a huge step this season when he set NHL career highs in goals (26), assists (43) and points (69). The Wild's leading scorer likely will start the playoffs on the second line with left wing Zach Parise and center Jordan Schroeder. Granlund has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 29 NHL playoff games.

Video: MIN@COL: Granlund picks the corner from sharp angle

Blues: Colton Parayko, defenseman -- Parayko, 23, completed his second NHL season and will once again be heavily relied on in the playoffs after he had two goals and five assists in 20 games last postseason. He ranked third on the Blues in ice time per game, behind veterans Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Each of Parayko's four goals this season were scored on the power play, so look for him to contribute in that area as well.

Video: TOR@STL: Parayko pots scorching wrister for PPG

 

Keys to victory

Wild: Veteran leadership. The Wild aren't short on players who have been involved in long playoff runs, particularly Staal and Parise, who helped the New Jersey Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. Those two will need to lead the way for Minnesota, which never has reached the Cup Final.

Blues: Shoot the puck, early and often. There is going to be an enormous amount of pressure on Dubnyk to perform after he faltered a bit in the second half, and an early goal in Game 1 could go a long way. That's where someone such as Tarasenko could really set the tone.

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