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  • Who Should the Wild Want To Face In the Playoffs? Predators or Blues?

    Aaron Propson

    “If they’re contenders, so are we,” Kevin Fiala told the media after the Minnesota Wild’s 3-2 victory over the Metro Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night. That might sound cocky, but Fiala is right. This year, the Canes are a consensus Cup contender, and Minnesota thoroughly outplayed them. Per MoneyPuck, Saturday’s game showcased the two teams with the highest Stanley Cup odds, per its model. Minnesota sits at 10.7% (with Carolina just behind at 10.3%) to win it all. Potential Cup Final preview? Perhaps.


    At this point in the season, making the playoffs is a near certainty for the Wild. The question now becomes, who will the Wild’s opponent be when the playoffs kick off in early May? The Central Division-leading Colorado Avalanche are 16-0-2 since the start of 2022 and show no signs of slowing down. While it’s possible Minnesota wins the division, it’s not likely.


    So the most likely outcome is the Wild finishing second or third in the Central. That’d make their likely opponent one of the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, or Winnipeg Jets in Round 1. Nashville and St. Louis are neck and neck for the 3-seed, while both Dallas and Winnipeg have outside chances of sneaking into the top-3.


    Let’s say Dallas and Winnipeg (41.3% and 25.4% playoff odds, respectively) only sneak into a Wild Card spot, at best. How does Minnesota match up against either Nashville or St. Louis? Is there a team the Wild doesn't want to see in a Round 1 draw?

    Nashville Predators

    With a 35.9% chance to finish third in the Central, Nashville is Minnesota’s most likely Round 1 opponent. The Predators are unexpectedly having a great season. Juuse Saros picked up right where he left off last year and is having a Vezina-caliber season with a .925 save percentage.


    But Nashville is bringing some offense, too. Mikael Granlund, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen are having their most productive seasons since 2018-19. Roman Josi continues to cement his place as one of the best blueliners of his generation, producing at a point-per-game pace so far. Filip Forsberg is earning himself a hefty payday this summer. And the Predators may have struck gold with a pair of late-blooming rookies in Tanner Jeannot and Alexandre Carrier.


    Nashville is just above league median when it comes to possession. They rank 13th in even-strength expected goals share. The Predators play a low-event style, ranking 22nd in shots for and 23rd in shots against per 60 minutes. It helps that Saros is a fantastic goaltender, saving 15.31 goals above expected this season (via EvolvingHockey). Saros can steal a series if you’re not clinical enough, like he almost did against Carolina last year.


    The Wild and Predators met in October, with the Predators winning 5-2. They’ll meet three more times this season, which should give us a better sign of how the two stack up against each other.


    Even an improved Nashville team may not have the offensive firepower to compete with Minnesota in a seven-game series, but Saros is a different beast. He has the potential to single-handedly steal a series, à la Jake Allen in 2016-17. However, this is a vastly different Wild team that should have put past demons behind it.

    St. Louis Blues

    St. Louis has had Minnesota’s number recently. The Blues took five of the last seven regular-season meetings between the two, including a convincing 6-4 victory in front of a national audience in the Winter Classic.


    The Blues have a great top-nine forward group. Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, and Ivan Barbashev are having breakout campaigns. Vladimir Tarasenko is having a bounce-back season after a summer filled with speculation around his future. Pavel Buchnevich is proving to be one of the savviest offseason acquisitions. And Ryan O’Reilly remains one of the best defensive centers in the game.


    The question for the Blues is in goal. Jordan Binnington is in the first year of a 6-year, $36 million extension, but Ville Husso has been flat out better. In 24 games played, Binnington has minus-10.85 goals saved above expected. In just 16 games played, Husso has 18.69 goals saved above expected. Husso also has 10 wins compared to Binnington’s 11. It’s a genuine issue for St. Louis. They’re paying Binnington to be the starter, despite being thoroughly outplayed by Husso. Craig Berube will have a tough decision to make come playoff time.


    Like Nashville, the Blues are far from spectacular in some of the key even-strength possession metrics. They rank 23rd in expected goals share, which doesn’t scream Cup contender. However, they have the third-best power play in the league and the fourth-best penalty kill. That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs when officials are reluctant to call penalties, and the rules get enforced differently.


    So which team does Minnesota stack up better against? Tough to say. Nashville is the better even strength team and has arguably a top-5 goaltender in the league. They play a boring style and can easily kill games. St. Louis has some more question marks and inconsistencies but is more explosive offensively than Nashville.


    There’s no simple path to a Stanley Cup. Teams must beat the best to be the best. But the Blues present a slightly easier first-round matchup for the Wild, despite having their number the last two seasons. There’s no easy out in the playoffs, but the Blues present a slightly easier challenge than the Predators.

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