The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will hook up in what will likely be an incredibly competitive first-round NHL playoff series.
Minnesota enters the playoffs as the top wild-card seed in the Western Conference, having gone 28-9-3 since acquiring goaltender Devan Dubnyk in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes in mid-January. It's the best record in the NHL since Jan. 15.
Sports Illustrated's Brent Sopel believes that had Dubnyk played a few more games for the Wild he would have been a prime candidate to win the MVP award.
But Dubnyk and the Wild are playing a team that head coach Mike Yeo said will provide an "all-out battle."
How good are the Blues? Allow Michael Russo of the Star Tribune to explain:
"Near the top of the league in goals (fifth), goals against (fifth), goal differential (third), power play (fourth), penalty kill (eighth), 5-on-5 goals (seventh), faceoff prowess (second), home record (fifth) and away record (third), the Blues will offer the Wild quite a challenge."
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Speed vs. Size
The Blues are known as a physically imposing team capable of man-handling its opponents. The Pioneer Press caught up with Yeo, who believes the Wild, known as one of the fastest teams in the league, won't be pushed around.
"We've played against lots of teams like that and have been effective," Yeo said. "I think that we have more size than people realize. I know that we're capable of playing a hard game, too. We do it in our own way, but without question we have to make sure that we use our speed. That's our greatest strength and that's what we have to be ready to bring."
The Wild has been one of the league's best road teams this season, having won a franchise record 24 games away from Xcel Energy Center. The 24 wins are tied for third-most in the NHL. St. Louis also won 24 road games.
But Minnesota has been extra hot of late; it won an NHL record-tying 12 straight away games before Sunday's regular season finale loss at St. Louis.
For more Wild-Blues numbers, check out the preview at Wild.com.
ESPN has the Blues winning in seven games, with five or six of them going to overtime.
NHL.com says the Wild will win if Minnesota can take some heat off the top line of Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. They'll also need Dubnyk to continue to shine and improve on the power play.
A pair of experts from CBS Sports split their picks, with one taking the Wild in six games and the other going with the Blues in seven.
Puck Daddy ranked the series the second-most watchable of all first-round matchups. As for a winner, it called the series a "toss-up."
FOX Sports picks the Wild in seven games and says "it's impossible to ignore that this has been the Western Conference's best club for a long stretch of the season."