Playoff Preview – Central Division Analysis

Mike Yeo

Playoff Preview – Central Division Analysis

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Tale of the Tape: Season Series – Blues 3-2

To say coach Mike Yeo is familiar with his Blues’ first round opponent would be an understatement.  Yeo coached the Wild for 5 years before joining the Blue bench as an assistant coach, then head coach after Hitchcock’s firing.  This might be the closest western matchup of the first round and has all the makings of a 7-game series.

Who to watch:

Minnesota: Nino Niederreiter.  Nino had a great finish to the season and is one of the Wild’s best kept secrets.  Playing on a line with Eric Staal and Zach Parise, Nino will be relied upon to provide secondary scoring for the Wild.
St. Louis:  Alex Pietrangelo.  If Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sees the puck, he will stop it.  To be successful against Dubnyk, the Blues will have to generate scoring chances from the back end.  Pietrangelo will need to show the offensive touch he demonstrated during his first few years with the Blues.

Verdict:

These central combatants know each other very well and there will be few surprises.  Whomever can execute their game plan the best with a couple of lucky bounces along the way will take the series in seven.  If Dubnyk performs like he can Minnesota should have the edge at home in game 7.

 Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

Tale of the Tape: Season Series – Blackhawks 4-1

Nashville draws the unenvious task of facing off against the perennial cup contending Chicago Blackhawks.  Regardless of who the Blackhawks lose each offseason, their core nucleus of Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, and Crawford remains intact.  Nashville meanwhile traded the face of their franchise for Montreal’s and have had issues keeping the puck out of their net.  Nashville will need to tighten things up defensively if they are to make it a series.

Who to watch:

Chicago: Corey Crawford.  With a roster full of offensive weapons and defensive stalwarts, the man between the crease will be feeling the full weight of the team’s expectations.  All Crawford needs to be is steady in the first round for Chicago to advance but if he falters, Darling is capable of replacing him like he has in previous years.
Nashville: PK Subban  PK Subban will need to carefully walk the line between rushing the puck up ice and being defensively responsible.  Subban was a minus-8 during the season and will have to pick his spots against a Chicago team that is great at forcing turnovers and playing transition hockey.

Verdict:

Chicago should be able to dispatch the Predators with their high-end skill level.  If Nashville can take the body and muck it up with a physically smaller Blackhawks team, they might be able to win a couple of games.

~ Paul Wesley