I’m not betting on the Blues-Wild series, so my prediction is irrelevant, meaningless, and the exact opposite of important.
But as a proud and veteran media professional, I realize I am obligated to offer a prediction.
So I will. Not that you should care.
The Blues will win if they can maintain the form and sustain the remarkable turnaround that took the NHL (and St. Louis) by surprise after Mike Yeo was moved up to head coach on Feb. 2. They will win if Jake Allen doesn’t revert to his early-season ways, and burst like a water main.
Through 50 games the Blues were a sluggish, confused, inconsistent and somewhat ambivalent team that seemed destined for failure instead of the franchise’s sixth consecutive trip to the postseason.
With Boss Yo! taking charge, the Blues reinvented themselves as a faster, disciplined, structurally sound, passionate, goal-denying hockey club that broke free from its own mediocrity.With goaltender Allen suddenly standing tall on his new contract instead of flopping, and the Blues top players performing in a paycheck-appropriate manner, and Yeo providing fresh air and giving opportunities to young players, and Alex Pietrangelo playing the most superb all-around hockey of his career, the Blues roll into the Stanley Cup playoffs as a sneaky long shot … a hip pick for an upset … a boutique choice for shoppers looking for something different instead of going with the same, predictable selections.
And I can see why. The Blues, at 22-8-2, had the circuit’s second-best winning percentage (.719) since Yeo-Man was given the lead whistle. They were downright miserly — grinches — about giving up goals, allowing the fewest in the league, 1.88 per game. They became the league’s best team at even strength at a plus 25. Defying the hopelessly idiotic forecasts of the coming pestilence, the Blues did not throw in the towel when trading their defenseman and free-agent walker Kevin Shattenkirk; they picked up the damn towel and wiped up opponents up with a defiant 15-4-2 record. Allen morphed into Spartacus. The old-school Blues that remained — your Bergie, your Perry, your Steener, your Petro — appropriately carried this team down the stretch and into third place in the NHL Central. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester may be about a minus 63,986 with his haters, but the dude went all Rod Langway (+14) in the team’s 15-2-2 rush to the regular-season finish line.
If the Blues can take their regular-season rebellion and move it up the steps a little — advancing toward the palace, with plans to storm the gates — then this will be a fun series.
And win or lose, Jake Allen will be the No. 1 factor.
Our fellas in blue have nothing to lose, looming as a 33-1 long shot in Vegas.
The Minnesota Wild are a balanced, deep, hefty experienced 106-point machine that features eight players with 18+ goals. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was a cruel obstructionist in 2015 when the Wild went wilding and took the favored Blues out in the first round. But there’s considerable pressure on the this Twin Cities team. Coach Bruce Boudreau — the certified hockey genius from October through the end of March — is 5-8 in postseason series during his coaching his career, leading his teams beyond the second round one time. Boudreau’s teams have competed in eight Game 7 showdowns … record: 1-7.
If the Blues can tangle Boudreau’s headwires by stealing a game (or two) at the Excel Energy Center this week, then it’s going to get awfully stuffy and stifling in Minnesota for this time of year. When the cruising, confident Wild inexplicably fell through the ice during a hazardous four-win March, Boudreau snapped at inquisitors and huffed out at news conferences. The slumping Dubnyk looked like a guy that had just watched his all-time favorite dog get struck by a truck. The outbreak of panic erupted quickly.
The Blues get the jump in this series, you just don’t know how the Wild will respond.
Yeo doesn’t have to be, say, Herb Brooks.
The Blues over the Wild would be no miracle on ice.
Yeo has to be Yeo … the same young but sharp coach that guided the Wild to their upset over the more experienced and savvy Ken Hitchcock and the Blues in ’15.
The Blues are on a bigger stage now. They will be playing a tougher schedule. The Stanley Cup tournament will not present free, all-you-can-eat wins over Colorado and Arizona. And since we talked about the Wild feeling pressure, the tension can flow both ways. How many Stanley Cups have the Blues won? Just because the Blues’ expectations were down this season, it doesn’t mean they’re immune to pressure and a 19th nervous breakdown.
In the end, I think the Wild will gather themselves and wear the Blues down, and put large bodies on V. Tarasenko, and find scoring and playmaking from many sources. I want to pick the Blues, because I want to believe that their .719 winning percentage under Yeo can be transferred to the postseason. But the postseason is … different. And until Allen wins a playoff series, he’s still the talented goaltender who hasn’t won a playoff series. And that’s what he is right now.
I am going to choose the Wild here, and hope that my so-called crystal ball splits in half so I can use it as a receptacle for the cigars I’ll be puffing on while watching this first-round encounter.
The Wild it is. But in how many games?
I don’t care. If you lose the series, you lose the series.
Doesn’t matter to me if it’s five games, six games or seven.
I’d prefer to see the Blues win, but I don’t always get what I want.
Thanks for reading …