The Minnesota Wild will face the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dallas led the Western Conference with 109 points, finishing two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division title and six points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Minnesota, on the other hand, backed into the playoffs with five straight losses after winning six in a row immediately before that. Their 87 points are the lowest to qualify for the playoffs in the decade-long shootout era.
The Stars won the season series 4-1, with three wins coming in 3-on-3 overtime.
“This looks to be the biggest mismatch in the Western Conference by a country mile, and not just because the Dallas Stars finished 22 points ahead of their first-round opponents, the Minnesota Wild,” writes ESPN Senior Writer Scott Burnside.
“There are lots of reasons to think the Stars will walk over the Wild, including the fact the Wild staggered into the postseason with five straight losses. Of course, this is the beauty of the playoffs, no? Clean slate, etc.,” he continues. “The Wild are a better team than they’ve showed for most of this season and there’s no better time to prove that point.”
He writes that Dallas should win because it is the highest scoring team in the NHL, and fifth on the power play. The Stars also have won six in a row at home and could pounce on the Wild early. He predicts that they will win the series in five games.
“The only way the Stars lose this series, apart from cataclysmic injury to most of their star players, is if the goaltending comes undone completely and head coach Lindy Ruff can’t find the right pattern for choosing his starter,” he writes.
As for the Wild, he says that goaltender Devan Dubnyk will have to stand on his head, and that they will have to play a lot better on special teams. Minnesota finished in the middle of the pack on the power play and had the 27th ranked penalty kill in the league.
“First, the Wild will have to stop losing every game. Ha. Ha. A little playoff joke there,” he writes. “The Wild lose this series by being exactly what they’ve been down the stretch, and that is a team that too often falls behind and lacks the chutzpah to come back from adversity.”[ESPN]