Conventional wisdom says all the pressure is on the Minnesota Wild this postseason.
After all, they got big this season, buying out the salaries of veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter as they revamped their roster.
That could put them in salary cap hell next season, with $12.7 million in buyouts counting towards the 2022-23 cap. But they are not worried about next season.
They’re trying to win a Stanley Cup this season. Before the trade deadline, the Wild added goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, a future Hall of Famer who played on three Cup-winning teams. They also added a few players with sandpaper in forward Nicolas Delauriers and defender Jacob Middleton.
It may not be now or never for the Wild, but it seems to be.
But look at the Blues. Since winning the Cup, they haven’t made it out of the first round.
The goaltender who guided them to the Cup in 2019, Jordan Binnington, has lost nine straight playoff games. Goaltender scheduled to start Monday against Minnesota, Ville Husso, allowed a career-high six goals in his last start and has yet to play in an NHL playoff game.
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They lost their chance to have the home advantage in this playoff series by losing their last two games of the regular season.
And that 13-1-2 record against the Wild since Craig Berube took over as Blues head coach — is that a blessing or a curse? Because the margin in the last two games between the teams in the regular season was a razor. And now is where beating the Wild matters the most.
Of course, winning matters most now. Period. A remarkable regular season in which the Blues had the third-most points (109) in franchise history, scored the fifth-most goals in franchise history (3.77 per match), set a power play efficiency record (27.0%) – among many other milestones – only raised expectations.
Pressure? Yes, there is also pressure from the side of the Blues.
Perhaps the only good thing about all of this is that the Blues have given very little thought to the big picture.
These defeats in the first round in 2020 (against Vancouver) and 2021 (Colorado)?
“Honestly, it didn’t really cross my mind once,” defender Colton Parayko said.
“Nobody cares,” said striker Vladimir Tarasenko. ” It’s from the past. We have learned our lessons and are ready to move on.
“Yeah, that’s ancient history,” Berube said. “They are different teams. I’m not trying to look into the past. Even when we won, I don’t really think about that situation.
So he didn’t watch Game 7 against Boston, in which the Blues won the Cup, a few times?
“Not for a while,” Berube said.
When it comes to home ice, the Blues haven’t quite caught up to Minnesota down the stretch because while the Blues had the NHL’s best record at 14-2-2 since March 28, the Wild were right behind them at 13-2-3.
Suddenly, the Blues open up on the road. And if there is a Game 7, it will be at the Xcel Energy Center, which is expected to be a hornet’s nest for visitors when the series opens Monday at 8:30 p.m.
“I don’t think it ever meant much to us,” general manager Doug Armstrong said, referring to the home advantage. “Maybe because our playoff home record is like our road record. So I don’t put a lot of stock in that. I think the best team is going to win. Great teams win on the road in And the teams that are going to win the Stanley Cup have to win on the road in the playoffs.
As for that lopsided success rate against the Wild under Berube, many Blues players simply ignored it.
For example, when asked to explain himself on Sunday, before the departure of the Blues for the twin cities, Parayko replied: “I don’t know. I feel like sometimes that’s how it goes.
They prefer to use this year as a yardstick, pointing out that this is a different team from Minnesota due to all the personnel changes.
“I just think those games between us, they’re always close,” Parayko said. “Just two good teams who always want to win.
“We know in the regular season how important points were. Obviously now in the playoffs, how big is each game. I don’t expect anything different than one-goal games and very close games.
For the most part, that’s how it went in the regular season between the teams.
On April 8 at the Enterprise Center, the Blues recovered from a 3-1 third period deficit to claim a 4-3 win over Robert Thomas’ goal in overtime.
Eight days later, also at the Enterprise, the Blues squandered a 4-1 third-period lead before eventually winning 6-5 on Brayden Schenn’s goal in overtime.
Even in the sub-zero setting of the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 in Minneapolis, the Blues took a 5-1, 6-2 lead, but the Wild made it interesting in the third period of a 6-4 Blues win. .
“They play with a ton of energy and spirit,” Berube said of the Wild. “They play a tough ‘north’ game. They are physical and they really play a spirited game of hockey.
The Blues need to match that. Step by step. Period by period. Game by game.
And that task seems to encompass everything for the Blues. Just ask Tarasenko, who in his first media session since February didn’t want to talk about his resounding comeback season, didn’t want to talk about scoring this season, didn’t even want to talk about what happened with trent frederic in boston.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, when asked if there was a point in the season when he knew he was back at the Tarasenko of old. “I’m back, of course. Play all season and play well. It’s time to focus on the playoffs. . . . Now we focus on Minny. . . . It’s over, the regular season. It’s obviously good for us, but we have to make a transition to the playoffs.
And so on, question after question.
But he was somewhat expansive when asked what it would take to win this series with the Wild.
“I think, as always, the winning team usually plays together, plays for each other,” Tarasenko said. “I think it will be a tough series for us; difficult series for them.
“You have to be physical. It will be very fun to play hockey. They have a good team; we have a good team.
“I think we are ready.”