The Minnesota Wild currently sit second in the Central Division with 80 points, one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues. However, they shouldn't feel too comfortable at the third-quarter mark of the season. It would take a major collapse for them to miss the playoffs, especially considering their investment at the trade deadline. But there's no guarantee that they won't slide down to a Wild Card spot in the West.
The Nashville Predators trail the Wild by two points. Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets are behind by five and 10 points, respectively. It's an extremely competitive division considering that the Vegas Golden Knights are just outside of the playoff picture and the Vancouver Canucks sit five points out.
It's natural to start thinking about potential first-round playoff matchups at this point in the season. With a quarter of the season remaining, teams in the West are beginning to fall out of the picture, like Vancouver and the Anaheim Ducks. While there's always a chance the Wild could slide down to a Wild Card spot, it's unlikely given their significant additions at the trade deadline. That's good because they won't want to play the Colorado Avalanche.
While the Avs would be an entertaining first-round opponent, the Wild don't want to mess around with them. Colorado leads the league with 95 points and added some depth pieces at the trade deadline. They added size with Nico Sturm and playoff experience in Andrew Cogliano, but their significant additions were defenseman Josh Manson and forward Artturi Lehkonen. As stacked as the Avalanche already were, they're even more dangerous now.
With that in mind, there are four teams that Minnesota will likely end up playing against in the first round: St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, or Winnipeg if they can put together a winning streak. The Blues would be the best bet for the Wild, even though their path to the second round will be difficult regardless of who they face.
The Blues' firepower upfront is evident. They have veteran forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and David Perron, who have all been huge contributors to their offense this season. It doesn't stop there, though. Youngsters Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas are having breakout years. Pavel Buchnevich, who they acquired from the New York Rangers in an offseason trade, is nearly a point-per-game.
St. Louis would have the edge offensively in the series, but it wouldn't be a dramatic difference since the Wild are a much deeper team. According to MoneyPuck, the Wild and Blues rank first and second in the league in goals scored above expected. That means both clubs are dependent on their finishing ability, which could be beneficial for the Wild in a series with the Blues, Minnesota's defense is among the best in the league, and they have high hopes in the Marc-Andre Fleury-Cam Talbot tandem.
The Blues' defense is subpar, and goaltending will be a mystery going into the playoffs. Jordan Binnington has struggled this season, sporting a .903 save percentage and allowing over seven goals above expected. Ville Husso has been among the best puck stoppers in the league this season, but would Binnington's playoff experience get him the nod between the pipes?
However, the Wild would have to tighten up and be responsible because the Blues' have elite special teams.
St. Louis also stayed quiet at the trade deadline, aside from adding Nick Leddy for insurance on the blue line. The veteran defenseman has struggled in Detroit all season, so it was a questionable move given the other defensive options available.
There are several potential first-round possibilities with the playoff race being so close. The Predators and Jets would be an entertaining series. But goaltending often shifts a series and becomes a difference-maker, so playing against Juuse Saros and Connor Hellebuyck would be difficult. Minnesota also could end up playing Dallas, which they would rather face than Nashville or Winnipeg.
While the Wild won't have an easy opponent in the postseason, St. Louis would probably be the best-case scenario. If they can control the Blues' special teams, it might be Minnesota's best option with question marks surrounding their blue line and goaltending.
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