Minnesota vs St Louis, this first round match up is, in my opinion one of the toughest to predict.
The Wild are more and more reminding me of the LA Kings, no, not the LA Kings that missed the playoffs this season, the one that Dominate from 2012-2014. The way the teams are structured and their style of play are similar, as well they are both built quite similar in terms of players.
Lets start with the key points for Minnesota:
Goaltending: Dubnyk. I've watched alot of Dubnyk since his days in Edmonton and on. If you look through my post history Im sure you'll notice that Ive mentioned more then a few times that his lack of success in Edmonton(and Arizona for that matter) in no way reflect on him. His underlying numbers, great positioning and size have always made him look like a pretty solid goaltender. Behind the porous Edmonton defense, and the lack of team structure there, he did pretty darn well all things considered. Im sure you could plug Pekka Rinne, Bobby Lou, or any other top goalie into that Edmonton line up of a few seasons ago, and they would'nt see much better success themselves. Now Im not saying Dubnyk is on par with those mentioned names, but I am saying he is a better goalie then his previous reputation lead most to believe. The goaltending advantage weighs heavily in Minnesota's advantage in this series.
Defense: Ryan Suter is a true #1 Elite Dman in the NHL. He is just a notch below Doughty, who was a huge factor in both of LA's cups. A Dman that can eat up 30 minutes a game and shut down all of the top offense of the league is indispensable for a cup run. Beyond him, Leopold plays a solid shut down game, and Dumba is on the rise, albeit still a bit of a liability in my opinion. Overall the Defense edge goes to St.Louis, but Ryan Suter can and will be a difference maker in this series. The remaining defenders on the Wild play a very similar style to the remaining defenders on the cup winning Kings after Doughty. They play well enough to shut down speedy players and slow the game right down, clog up the neutral zone, block shots, and transition the puck up ice.
Offense: The Wilds forward core, again comparing the the cup winning Kings, is structured very similar. Vanek and Parise can provide the key goals, while Granlund plays a great two way game coupled with the ability to chip in points, Pomminvile and Neiderreiter are also very capable secondary producers, and the group as a whole plays a frustrating trap system, and are a solid puck possesion team.
St Louis Key Points:
Goaltending: Elliot and Allen are both still pretty fresh in the league, and both are young for their respective positions. Both have looked steady all season, but post season is a whole different ball game. Minnesota does not have any particularly over the top dangerous forwards(ie Kane, Stamkos, Crosby) style players to have to worry about, but they get up close in the opposing goalies face, they screen well and bang in garbage goals. As mentioned the goaltending advantage is clearly in Minny's favour.
Defense: This is where St. Louis really shines, with one of the best, if not the best well rounded top 4 D in the league, St. Louis has the advantage of having a crew of guys who play fantastic two way hockey, can provide plenty of offense, make excellant breakout passes, and play strong along the boards. They have 3 Dmen who are more then capable of running a power play, and their entire top 4 can kill penalties and play strong in all 3 zones.
Offense: The additon of Stastny and even Olli Jokinen will be a big difference this year over last years blues. The Blues can easily roll four lines that can all score. They lack, however, the size in the forward group needed to play Minny's trap game. They will have to find a way to get out of the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. Their defense should be able to help with breakouts and outlet passes.
To summarize, while the St. Louis blues look good on paper, and have an elite D core, I think the overall team game Minny plays will be the deciding factor here. I predict this series to go 6 or 7, with Minny taking the ticket to the second round.