For six and a half months, the Minnesota Wild battled for a chance to get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. After the regular season ended in St. Louis on Saturday, the Wild will have three days long days before starting its Round 1 series against those same Blues on Thursday.
Minnesota used today as a long preparation practice, even needing a much-mocked dry scrape before proceeding to power play work. The Wild has a familiar foe in the Blues and even with the layoff, there’s not too much to be gleaned before the series commences.
“It’s not like we’re going to unearth any great secrets here. There are maybe a couple of adjustments they make,” Yeo said. “The core of their game will be the same, we have a good feeling of an understanding of the players they have. We definitely have a high respect level for that team, but it comes a point as this week goes on, we have to turn our attention much more towards ourselves.”
That inward focuse comes from the experience of playoffs past. After being bounced in Round 1 by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, Minnesota took down the Colorado Avalanche last season.
“We’re a little bit more experienced,” Yeo said. “With that experience, you learn not to come in looking too far down the road and talking too much about expectations. Our expectation is to make sure that we’re ready for Game 1 right now, and I think that that’s probably something we’ve learned along the way here.”
The Wild has learned the playoffs are a completely different game than the regular season. The intensity goes up quicker than the volume on the stereo at a good party.
“It’s just a different level,” Zach Parise said. “It’s a different atmosphere in the buildings. It’s a different pace to the game. So for players to get that experience and play some games, play some important games, a Game 7, play some games where you’re on the verge of elimination, to get that, I think that’s big for everybody.”
Parise, of course, is referring to last year’s Game 7 victory in Colorado, where Nino Niederreiter scored the series-clinching goal in overtime. While the Avs might’ve been the surprise team in the Western Conference last year, the Blues have been one of the best regular season teams in the National Hockey League. However, that success hasn’t translated into the postseason, with the Blues getting bounced in the first round for two straight seasons (Los Angeles Kings in 2013 and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014). Despite St. Louis’ playoff disappointments, the Wild knows what it is up against.
“It’s going to be a battle,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “They’re a big hard team to play against. It’s going to be a battle, and you’re going to have to fight for every inch, and for every goal.”
Though the Wild and Blues have never met in the playoffs, they’ve gotten familiar in the regular season since shifting to the Central together. St. Louis owned the first two seasons of the divisional rivalry; the Wild was 1-5-2 against the Blues from 2012-14.
However, Minnesota went 2-1-1 against the Notes this year, including a 4-2 loss on the final day of the regular season. In hindsight, that game will probably look like a game of tiddlywinks compared to the series opener on Thursday.
“It’s going to be hard; they’re a really good team, they have been for a while now,” Parise said. “We know it’s going to be a tight checking series and probably a low scoring series and not a lot of room on the ice. It’ll be a hard series, it’ll be a good test, but we’re excited about it.”
For the team’s bench boss, spring just feels like playoff season. He knows that in the second season, anything can happen.
“It’s the best time of year,” Yeo said. “When the playoffs start, first off the weather’s starting to get nicer and the sun’s out, and now there’s only 16 teams left in the dance.
“It’s safe to say you look at the parity around the league, and every year, it seems like every team that enters the playoffs has got a chance to win the Stanley Cup. And that’s exciting.”
Possible Game 1 Lineup
Yeo said that his Game 1 lineup isn’t 100 percent, but there’s a good chance that this is what it will look like:
Of course, Devan Dubnyk has been penciled in as the Game 1 starter since the club clinched a spot in the postseason. Wild.com covered how his confidence trickled down to the rest of the team after his acquisition on Jan. 14.