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5 Keys: Blues at Wild, Game 1

St. Louis tries to build on late-season surge; Minnesota opens playoffs at home for first time since 2008

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues play Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN3, FS-N, FS-MW).

It's the second series between the Central Division rivals in the past three seasons; the Wild defeated the Blues in six games in the Western Conference First Round in 2015. It's also the first time since 2008 that the Wild open the playoffs at home, where they were 27-12-2 during the regular season.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:

 

1. Battle of the bench bosses

The Blues were 22-8-2 after Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach on Feb. 1, less than a year after being fired as coach of the Wild. St. Louis was 15-2-2 in last 19 games.

"We changed some stuff in our systems," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've seen it work for us … I think that [Yeo's] really gelled for us."

Yeo's knowledge of his former team won't hurt either.

In his first season with Minnesota, Bruce Boudreau led the Wild to their most successful season since entering the NHL in 2000 (49 wins, 106 points). His up-tempo style helped the Wild score 266 goals, 31 more than the previous team record set in 2006-07.

Boudreau is eager to start the playoffs after a three-day break following the last regular-season game on Saturday.

"I think that everybody on both teams is pretty anxious to get this thing going," Boudreau said. "I don't think either team has had too many days off since the beginning of March, so these three days seem like forever."

Video: Previewing the Blues-Wild matchup

 

2. Tarasenko's a threat

Forward Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues with 39 goals, tying him for fourth in the NHL, and has scored 116 in the past three seasons. Tarasenko scored five goals in the Blues' last eight regular-season games and is a threat to score any time he's on the ice. The Wild know they can't give him much time or space.

"[He's got a] good heavy shot and he can get it away quick, so you've got to stay close to him on rushes and just not give him that time and space to get in close," Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. "Not only does he have a great shot, he's a great passer. You just have to be aware of him on the ice."

 

3. Goaltending battle

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk is coming off an excellent season (40-19-5, 2.25 goals-against average, .923 save percentage), though he struggled at times down the stretch.

Blues goalie Jake Allen struggled early but has been superb since Yeo took over and Martin Brodeur replaced Jim Corsi as goaltending coach. He had a 1.85 goals-against average and .938 save percentage after the coaching change.

"He's been nothing short of phenomenal for the better part of three months right now," Yeo said. "You can see the confidence in his game. You can see it in the way that he plays the puck, in the way that he challenges shots, the way that he makes difficult saves look easy. And that confidence filters through to the rest of the group."

 

4. New combos for Blues

The Blues promoted rookie center Ivan Barbashev, who had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 30 games, to the first line. He'll play between Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko. It will be Barbashev's first Stanley Cup Playoff game.

"I can't wait for the game to start," Barbashev said. "It's going to be fun and I'm really looking forward to it. I just can't wait, to be honest."

Alexander Steen moves to right wing on the third line with Jori Lehtera at center and Vladimir Sobotka on left wing. Center Patrik Berglund, left wing Magnus Paajarvi and right wing David Perron, who had success together at times during the regular season, will be reunited on the second line.

 

5. Playoff first-timers

In addition to Barbashev, Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek and Blues defenseman Jordan Schmaltz are making their postseason debuts.

Eriksson Ek spent much of the season with Farjestad of the Swedish Hockey League. He had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 15 games with the Wild.

Schmaltz was recalled from Chicago of the American Hockey League on March 5 and had two assists in nine games.

"I think I'm excited," Schmaltz said. "Nerves will probably kick in a little bit before the game…but right now just kind of approach it like another game, even though it's not, and get ready to play."

 

Blues projected lineup

Jaden Schwartz -- Ivan Barbashev -- Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi -- Patrik Berglund -- David Perron

Vladimir Sobotka -- Jori Lehtera -- Alexander Steen

Scottie Upshall -- Kyle Brodziak -- Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester -- Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson -- Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson -- Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Allen

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Zach Sanford , Dmitrij Jaskin, Luke Opilka

Injured: Robby Fabbri (knee), Paul Stastny (foot), Nail Yakupov (undisclosed) , Robert Bortuzzo (upper body)

 

Wild projected lineup

Erik Haula -- Mikko Koivu -- Mikael Granlund

Nino Niederreiter -- Eric Staal -- Zach Parise

Jason Zucker -- Martin Hanzal -- Charlie Coyle

Chris Stewart -- Joel Eriksson Ek -- Jason Pominville

Ryan Suter -- Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella -- Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin -- Christian Folin

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Scratched: Jordan Schroeder, Ryan White, Nate Prosser

Injured: None

 

Status update

Yeo said all injured players remain day to day. Bortuzzo took part in the morning skate and appears to be the first nearing a return.

 

Who's hot

Schwartz has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past four games. Perron has three points (one goal, two assists) in his past four games. … Niederreiter has five points (two goals, three assists) in his past five games. ... Koivu has four points (three goals, one assist) in his past five games. Granlund has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past five games.

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