Here we are, folks, in the dying days of the 2021-22 regular season.
Tonight, the Minnesota Wild could officially punch their ticket to the post-season with a win — in any fashion — over the St. Louis Blues and a couple of other things happen around the league.
It doesn’t look like that will be an easy task.
The Blues roll into town with a 9-0-1 record in their last ten games, built on an active seven-game winning streak. They’ve faced some staunch competition to get the streak, with wins against the Wild, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. Sprinkle in some easy wins against the Seattle Kraken, New York Islanders and a 6-2 walloping of the Buffalo Sabres, and you’ve got yourself a lovely stretch of wins.
Rob Thomas — so smooth — has scored points in his last 12 games, including a five-assist night in the win, as mentioned earlier, over the Sabres. The 22-year-old has broken onto the scene this year. His offensive talent was always apparent when on the ice, but it never resulted in many pucks going into the net. This year that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as, during that 12-game point streak, he’s notched six goals and 17 assists.
Robert Thomas is a bonafide first-line center, and it’s not good.
Thomas anchors the first line with Vladimir Tarasenko and New York Rangers castoff Paul Buchnevich. They are dynamic and creative and can cut through defenses. They’ll be a handful.
We just saw this same team last week, so we won't spill too much ink on the rest of the roster.
Ville Husso will likely be in net, as this looks to be the playoff warmup for a near-inevitable matchup. HockeyViz.com has a first-round matchup against the Blues at 97 percent likelihood for the Wild. Husso has been fantastic, firmly supplanting noted baby Jordan Binnington as the starter with a .925 save percentage and a 23-6-5 record.
In the opposite net, expect to see Cam Talbot, as he’s been the starter in every other game and is likely to be the starter for any first-round matchup.
Kevin Fiala is on a Fiala-like streak, with points in his last four games, including two goals and an assist in Thursday night’s overtime win against the Dallas Stars. Matthew Dumba, Jordan Greenway and Jon Merrill are all still day-to-day with minor injuries, although there is an outside chance Merrill draws in.
There should be a real playoff-like atmosphere in St. Louis tonight, and tonight's results could dictate who gets home ice in the first round. The Wild have lost all three previous games against the Blues this season, so a good showing tonight could go a long way in setting the tone for the post-season.
Puck drop is at 2:00 p.m. CT on ABC and ESPN+.
Who can contain Rob Thomas?
Not a sentence often heard, but the kid has been lights out. The five-assist night is terrifying. He’s taken the ghost of Vladimir Tarasenko and a cast-off from the Rangers and turned them into a dynamic offensive threat.
Keep him off the board and stay out of the box. Thomas has 13 powerplay points and is the driver for a terrific powerplay.
Can the Wild contain the playoff energy and stay out of the box?
Knowing that they will likely face each other, emotions will probably run high. Both teams will want to set a tone and look to take a piece out of their opponent. With the St. Louis Blues and with such a high value two points on the table, this isn’t the path to success tonight.
The Wild will have to reign the emotions in, go to work and secure that playoff spot. This may come easier without Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway, two of the Wild’s toughest and most punishing players. They face the league's second-best powerplay, converting on 26.4 percent of their opportunities.