by Craig Schroepfer

The Minnesota Wild clinched a Stanley Cup playoff berth for the fourth year in a row on Tuesday night. Granted it didn’t happen the way they would have preferred.

Minnesota went into their game against the San Jose Sharks knowing that a win would wrap up a playoff berth. Instead they Wild played a mostly uninspired game, losing 3-0 to the Sharks. It wasn’t until after their game, when Colorado lost to Nashville 4-3, that the Wild knew for sure they would be playing hockey in the spring.

With a playoff berth secured it’s time to look ahead to potential playoff opponents. And there are two Central Division foes that Minnesota could see in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

DALLAS STARS:

Why the Wild should want to play them:

If there is a weakness on the Stars it is their goaltending. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have shared the duties in net this season with Niemi starting 42 games and Lehtonen starting 38 games.

Niemi on the season is 24-13-7 with a save percentage of .905 and a goals against average of 2.68. Lehtonen is 24-10-2 with a save percentage of .907 and a GAA of 2.79. Not the kind of numbers you want to see from your goaltending going into the post-season.

As a result of those goaltending numbers, the Stars are ranked 20th out of 30 teams in goals against on the season (226), worst of any team currently in a playoff spot.

Why the Wild shouldn’t want to play them:

Because the Stars can score goals just as easily as they can allow them.

Dallas has 258 goals on the season, most in the NHL. The next closest team in goals scored is Washington with 240 goals.

Jamie Benn leads the Stars in scoring with 88 points (41 goals, 47 assists). Benn’s goal total is good for third in the NHL.

Behind Benn is a pair of 30 goals scorers in centers Tyler Seguin (33 goals) and Jason Spezza (30 goals). John Klingberg (10 G, 46 A) has added a scoring presence from the blue line that Dallas previously hasn’t had.

Another thing the Stars do well is skate. Dallas has great team speed and plays well in transition. Minnesota does not have the offensive firepower to skate up and down the ice and get in a shoot out with the Dallas Stars.

If the Wild do play Dallas in the first round, the first two games of the series would take place at American Airlines Center in Dallas where the Wild are 6-16-7 lifetime.

LOUIS BLUES:

Why the Wild should want to play them:

Last year the Wild beat the Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs four games to two. Minnesota was able to do this by out skating St. Louis, forcing the Blues to chase them up and down the ice.

St. Louis did make a couple changes to their roster going into this season but for the most part, the core of this team remains in place, A core the Wild defeated a year ago.

Minnesota knows they can out skate the Blues. The Wild also know that St. Louis has a tendency to choke in the first round of the playoffs.

The Blues have been bounced in the first round the last three seasons. Split the first two games in St. Louis or get an early lead in the series and the Blues will start questioning themselves.

Once you get in their head, you have a mental edge in the series. A fragile opponent who doesn’t know how to win is always a welcomed sight in the post-season.

Why the Wild shouldn’t want to play them:

Because St. Louis is a big physical team that can wear down the Wild.

The Blues have a notable size advantage over Minnesota. If St. Louis can clog up the middle of the ice and force the Wild to play along the boards, the Blues can hit the Wild and wear them down.

St. Louis is also a stingy team to score against. The Blues have allowed 195 goals on the the season which is fifth best in the NHL. Goaltender Jake Allen is 26-15-3 on the season with a save percentage of .920 and a GAA of 2.35.

St. Louis knows their window to contend is closing. Their success in the regular season hasn’t carried over to the playoffs. The Blues felt they were the better team last year even after Minnesota eliminated them. St. Louis would love nothing more than another shot at the Wild to avenge their playoff loss from a year ago.

Whichever team the Wild end up facing in the first round, they will have their hands full as both teams offer different challenges. But the important thing right now is that Wild are in the post-season.

Sure beats being the Colorado Avalanche.

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