MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Wild opens the Stanley Cup Playoffs Monday night at Xcel Energy Center, and it’s against a familiar opponent in the St. Louis Blues.
The Wild is making its 12th playoff appearance in franchise history. They’re looking for their first series win since beating the Blues in six games in 2015. The Wild is in the playoffs for the third straight season, and ninth time in the last 10 seasons. Last year, the Wild lost in the opening round to the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games. Two years ago, the Vancouver Canucks beat them in four games.
The Wild beat the Avalanche in seven games to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014, their only other series win in the postseason since 2014. The team’s other opening round losses came to the Dallas Stars in 2016, Blues in 2017 and Winnipeg Jets in 2018.
This year feels a little different for the Wild. They finished second in the Western Conference with 113 points. The Wild won 53 regular season games, including a 31-8-2 on their home ice. They’re entering the postseason 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.
The Blues finished right behind the Wild at 109 points. The biggest problem facing Minnesota? It has yet to beat St. Louis this season. The Wild lost all three regular season match-ups, and the Blues are 12-1-1 in the last 14 games between the two teams. But when it’s the playoffs, the stats really don’t matter.
"I think that’s what the 82 games are for. The ultimate prize that we’re all here for is the Stanley Cup. That’s our goal from Day 1, it’s still our goal. You have to take steps in that direction, and we’ve taken one to be here today," Wild coach Dean Evason said Monday after morning skate.
The shift for the Wild started in the offseason, with Bill Guerin buying out the contract buyouts of veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Kirill Kaprizov signed a five-year deal, and proceeded to shatter franchise records with 47 goals and 108 points in the regular season. For the first time in franchise history, the Wild had three players with at least 30 goals. Kevin Fiala scored 33 goals and had 85 regular season points. Ryan Hartman finished with 34 goals.
Guerin made a slew of trades during the season, including acquiring future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. From morning skate, it appears Fleury will start Game 1. Evason has good options, as Fleury went 9-2 in 11 regular season games with the Wild. Cam Talbot, an NHL All-Star, was 32-12 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.
The Wild is a confident group no matter who is in net or on the ice. Their 53 regular season wins reflect just that. Their challenge is slowing down a Blues’ team that has nine players with at least 20 goals.
"This mindset that we have is really something special and that’s what’s needed in these playoffs. They’re a good hockey team, they’re most likely going to score goals so we’ve got to understand that," winger Marcus Foligno said. "We’ve just to out-score them and push through and keep worrying about our game."
The good news? Foligno and Mats Zuccarello appear to be back from injuries, and the Wild is as healthy as it’s been in all season.
Game 1 is set for 8:30 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild have home ice advantage over the Blues.
"We’ve got home ice advantage, we love playing here. We love our fans, it’s not going to be easy though. We’ve got to compete wherever we’re playing. We have to do the exact same thing that’s allowed us to get to this point and have some success," Evason said. "If we play like the Minnesota Wild can play, we like our chances."