It can be argued that no sport offers a more exciting playoff atmosphere than the National Hockey League. That was certainly the case for most Minnesota Wild fans when the Wild upset the Avalanche in the first round before falling in dramatic fashion to the Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals last season.
Thursday night, when the puck drops at 8:30 p.m. in St. Louis, will mark the start of a new season and a new chance to bring Wild hockey to the highest level. Most pundits believe the Wild are good enough to make a deep run through the playoffs, but not many have them reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
One writer that does is Larry Brooks of the New York Post. Brooks has the Wild beating the Blues in six games, then the Blackhawks in seven games, followed by the Jets in five games where the Wild eventually lose to the Rangers for all the marbles.
Forecasts aside, here's what really matters in terms of the start of the Wild-Blues best-of-seven series.
Matt Cooke likely out
After missing 31 games this season with a sports hernia, the veteran Wild winger will likely miss Game 1 with soreness from the same injury. Pro Hockey Talk says it could be tough on the Wild losing one of their veteran, playoff-tested forwards.
Goalies making playoff debuts
The Blues are sticking with their hot hand in net as rookie goalie Jake Allen was named the starter over veteran Brian Elliott. Allen went 5-1-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average in his last eight appearances of the regular season. Elliott was the goalie who beat Minnesota in the regular season finale.
For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk will make his postseason debut on the heels of his incredible run. Since Jan. 15, Dubnyk has gone 27-8-2 with a 1.73 goals-against average for the Wild. But don't get too confident about Dubnyk, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that he was 1-3-1 in his final five starts.
Wild need to slow down Tarasenko
Vladimir Tarasenko is the name and scoring in bunches is his game. The second-year forward dazzled this season with 37 goals and 73 points, good for 10th-most in the NHL this season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Blues need a "large impact" from Tarasenko if they hope to beat the Wild.
Check out the slick move Tarasenko undressed Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford with earlier this season.
KFAN's Chris Hawkey put together a cool song called "Raise The Cup" to build the anticipation for the playoffs.