The Anaheim Ducks took down San Jose last night, ensuring two things. One, the Ducks will win the Pacific Division, and, of far greater importance, the Wild cannot meet the Sharks in an opening round playoff series next week.
That leaves the Wild with three yet-to-be-determined options, with varying degrees of difficulty. Let’s capsule this:
Option 1: St. Louis Blues.
Happens if: Blues win Midwest division, finish behind or even with Anaheim in points.
Record vs. Wild: 4-0 (one win via shootout, fifth season meeting tonight).
Total season aggregate score: St. Louis 12, Minnesota 4
Degree of difficulty: Killing Predator, if you are Carl Weathers.
Quite simply, the Wild do not match up well with the Blues. St. Louis is a nasty, physical (the cliché is “built for the playoffs”) and excellent defensively. They have owned the Wild this season, and their ability to shut down an attack with the league’s deepest defensive corps is widely known. They are also an insanely good puck possession team, recording just 342 giveaways to this point in the season. Unfortunately, if the season ended today, this is the matchup. Another loss to St. Louis tonight could actually help prevent this matchup.
Silver lining: The Blues have underperformed in the playoffs, which is a St. Louis Blue tradition. Also they haven’t been that great over their last handful of games. So there’s that.
Option 2: Anaheim Ducks
Happens if: The Blues reverse their losing ways over their final three games, with one in hand over the Ducks.
Record vs. Wild: 2-1 (one victory in overtime)
Total season aggregate score: Anaheim 8, Minnesota 7
Degree of difficulty: Small town bank robbery. It could work. Probably not a good idea.
Tricky one to figure. The Ducks are certainly talented, and Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have been Wild killers throughout their careers. There is of course the small matter that Anaheim has ended half of Minnesota’s playoff runs throughout their existence, though they have not met since 2007, so that information isn’t actually all that useful. The series would pit two of the best 5-0n-5 teams in the league, and the fact that the Ducks are 22nd in the league on the power play may be a welcome sight for Minnesota’s woeful penalty kill.
Silver lining: In addition to the power play bit, which starting goalie would you rather face, Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller, who has allowed 30 goals in his last 10 starts amid rumors he may be benched for Frederick Andersen? Hint: Always opt to play the team with an unstable goaltending situation in the playoffs.
Option 3: Colorado Avalanche
Happens if: The Avalanche can win one more game than St. Louis over their final three games of the season (assuming no overtime or shootout losses by the Blues) and both teams stay behind Anaheim.
Record vs. Wild: 4-0-1 (one win via shootout)
Total season aggregate score: Colorado 15, Minnesota 10
Degree of difficulty: ???????????????????????????
The Avalanche are an unknown commodity heading into the playoffs. They have good goaltending (Semyon Varlamov leads the NHL in wins, and their backup once did this to the Wild in the playoffs). They also have a bevy of offensive talent, with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Calder shoe-in Nathan MacKinnon leading the way. Lost in all of this is a fairly anonymous, but decent defensive corps, which was the team’s downfall last season. Erik Johnson is enjoying his finest season, while youngster Tyson Barrie has been a revelation. Patrick Roy has also coaxed excellent performances out of journeymen Jan Hejda, Andre Benoit and Nick Holden. Of course it all comes from Roy himself, the Avalanche’s talismanic coach.
Silver lining: Many. The Avalanche are deep offensively, but all of the players I mentioned above are very young (O’Reilly and Duchene are the oldest, at 23). There isn’t a ton of playoff experience in the group, for whatever that’s worth. As for Mr. Roy? We’ll always have this: