The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Monday, May 2. Today, we preview the series between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.
MINNESOTA WILD v. ST. LOUIS BLUES schedule
Game 1: May 2, 9:30 p.m. ET – Blues at Wild (ESPN, SN360, TVA Sports)
Game 2: May 4, 9:30 p.m. ET – Blues at Wild (ESPN, SN360, TVA Sports)
Game 3: May 6, 9:30 p.m. ET – Wild at Blues (TNT, SN360, TVA Sports)
Game 4: May 8, 4:30 p.m. ET – Wild at Blues (TBS, SN360, TVA Sports)
*Game 5: May 10, TBD – Blues at Wild (TBD)
*Game 6: May 12, TBD – Wild at Blues (TBD)
*Game 7 May 14, TBD – Blues at Wild (TBD)
1. The Blues have had the Wild’s number, especially under Craig Berube
Most of the time, it’s probably best just to throw out two teams’ head-to-head stats come playoff time. Above all else, a few games only tell you so much about either team over an 82-game season. Sure, you can get an idea about matchups and other factors, but it’s dangerous to read too much into such battles.
However, the Blues’ edge over the Wild is a multi-year trend. This is one of those cases where it’s at least worth mentioning just how often the Blues prevail over the Wild.
At the Athletic, Jeremy Rutherford and Michael Russo collected some pretty eye-opening head-to-head stats between the Wild and Blues (sub required).
The Blues are 12-1-1 in the past 14 meetings between the teams, spanning three seasons, and 13-1-2 all-time against the Wild under coach Craig Berube. The Wild are 2-7-5 in those 14 games against the Blues, 0-4-3 in their past seven games in St. Louis and 5-11-7 in their past 23 there. In the past 14 games against the Blues, the Wild have been outscored 61-36 and outscored on special teams 13-3. Their power play is 7.2 percent compared with St. Louis’ 32.1 percent. The Wild’s save percentage is hovering around .850, while the Blues’ is .920.
The Wild have said all the right things about things being different in the playoffs, and it’s fair to expect things to be less extreme in favor of the Blues. Those are some pretty stunning numbers, nonetheless.
2. Two of the hottest teams in the NHL down the stretch
If you look at their place in the standings, you’d already conclude that the Wild and Blues enjoyed strong seasons. The Wild finished with 113 points, good for the second-most in the Western Conference, while the Blues’ 109 were fourth-most in the West.
Dive into recent results, and they look even more impressive.
Since March 16, the Wild compiled a blistering 19-2-3 record, which translates to an absurd .854 points percentage. That’s by far the most in the NHL during that span, with the Maple Leafs, Oilers, and Panthers curiously all tied for second at .773. The Blues are close to that group, though, as they went 15-5-3 for a .717 points percentage. The Flames are the only other team close to that range (.696).
Throw out two low-stakes Blues losses that closed the season, and the Blues were the second-hottest team (behind the Wild) from March 16 – April 24.
By any reasonable measure, the Blues and Wild enter the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs playing their best hockey of their respective seasons. Hopefully that translates to a thrilling, heavyweight battle.
3. The least-established goalie may have the biggest chance to swing this series
You won’t find many series with three fairly well-known goalies.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Few active goalies are quite as famous as “The Flower.”
Jordan Binnington – One of the driving forces of the Blues winning that elusive, first-ever Stanley Cup.
Cam Talbot – Not the most thrilling goalie, but he’s played almost 400 regular-season games and sports a sneaky-strong .923 save percentage spread across 32 career playoff contests.
If you go by name recognition, Ville Husso likely ranks last in this series. Yet, if you judge things by how a goalie has been performing, Husso’s the netminder most likely to be a positive difference-maker.
By this season’s stats alone, both Fleury and Binnington have been struggling. Talbot, meanwhile, has been stable but unspectacular.
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Husso, though? It’s fair to wonder where he’d be in the Vezina Trophy race if he took hold of the Blues’ starting goalie job sooner. This is elite stuff.
At times this season, both teams outshot expectations, pointing to at least some luck driving their successes. Big-picture, the Wild present a much sturdier structure than the Blues, and their firepower looks more or less even.
If season trends carried over to the playoffs, you’d either think the Wild’s 5-on-5 advantages would swing the series, or Husso would alter the balance in favor of the Blues.
Of course, strange things can happen in a span of 4-7 games. We’ve also seen plenty of cases where MAF gets hot and plays as well as any goalie in the world.
Whatever happens, this could be an exciting series. That’s good news for hockey fans, but maybe bad news for the goalies involved.
Prediction: Wild in 7.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.