St. Louis Blues: Examining Likely Scenarios For First-Round Playoff Opponents

Apr 2, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) is congratulated by teammate after scoring against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) is congratulated by teammate after scoring against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

For the sixth straight year and forty-first time in franchise history, the St. Louis Blues clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues clinched a playoff spot before April for the fourth time during the six-year playoff streak following Friday’s 2-1 overtime loss over the Colorado Avalanche. While the playoff berth came on a sour ending to a strong month, it serves a testament to a surge where the Blues collected 26 of the 30 last possible points and tied a franchise record with 11 March victories.

The season has offered several highlights, from the the Winter Classic to wake-up calls like a change of guard at coach. Heading into the final week of regular season, the Blues could finish as high as second place in the Central Division or as low as the Western Conference’s second wild card.

However, it remains to be seen who St. Louis’s first playoff opponent will be.  There’s a strong possibility it may come against an opponent they did not play in March at all. Following the Los Angeles Kings’ 2-1 loss on Sunday night, every playoff spot in the Western Conference is now clinched. The playoff picture holds an even split in teams from the Pacific and Central divisions.

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Since the NHL introduced its new playoff format in the 2013-14 season, the Blues have played a division opponent in the first round all three times. Twice they have opened playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks, and in between they had a matchup sandwiched against the Minnesota Wild.

With the way the standings are trending, a first-round matchup against one of these two is looking like the most likely scenario again. Chicago secured home ice advantage against all other Western Conference teams on Saturday.  Minnesota, meanwhile, has ensured either second or third place in the Central Division after Sunday’s action.

Potential Opponent 1: Chicago Blackhawks

Let’s start with Winter Classic foe Chicago Blackhawks, a team who the Blues have not played since dealing Kevin Shattenkirk. While the Blackhawks won three of five games in the season series, the Blues held a +1 advantage in goal differential within these contests.

The long-time rivals have played in 12 head-to-head playoff series against one another since 1970. The Blackhawks have won eight of those. The Blues carry bragging rights in the most recent playoff matchup, winning against Chicago in a first round matchup four games to three in 2016-17.

The stakes would certainly be different in a first-round matchup this year. The Blackhawks just recorded their second 50 win season in franchise history. Now that Chicago has home ice wrapped up, the only way the Blues can match up against them in the first round is by falling to eighth place in the Western Conference.

The situation heading into such a matchup may not be ideal for team morale either. It would mean the Nashville Predators would gain a three-point edge over St. Louis in the final week of the regular season with one less game to play.

Potential Opponent 2: Minnesota Wild

St. Louis’s most likely first-round counterpart would be the Minnesota Wild, a team who has won only five of their past 18 games and most recently lost hold of the Central Division lead in mid-March. The Blues took three of five games in the season series against Minnesota, all St. Louis victories which were decided by one goal.

Minnesota won its only head-to-head playoff series against the Blues in the 2014-15 season. However, the young franchise has only moved past the second round of the playoffs once.

There is still a slim chance St. Louis finishes ahead of the Wild.  The Blues could only get home ice in such a series if they win all of their remaining four games.  Minnesota would need to finish their final three regular season games without a point.

Regardless, the Blues only need a combination of two more wins or Nashville regulation losses to secure head coach Mike Yeo’s previous team as their first-round opponent. Yeo won his first game against Minnesota on March 7.

Potential Opponent 3: Pacific Division Winner

If the Blues do not run into the Wild or Blackhawks in the first-round, it will mean that the team finishes no worse than seventh place in the Western Conference or with the most points among Western Conference wild card candidates. This would place the Blues against the Pacific Division’s top team, which may not be determined until the final day of the regular season.

Pacific first-round playoff candidates could include the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers or San Jose Sharks.  All three teams are within four points for the top divisional seed. The Calgary Flames have also clinched a playoff spot in this division, but were mathematically eliminated from the top division seed with Anaheim’s victory on Saturday.

The regular season has been a tale of two different stories among these contenders. The Blues finished 5-1-0 against California based teams and 1-4-1 against Canada based teams from the Pacific Division this season.

Currently, the Anaheim Ducks or Edmonton Oilers hold the upper hand to win the division.  Both could finish with 105 points by winning out.

If the Blues fell into the wild card spot to face the Pacific Division leader, the team that finishes with fewer points between the Sharks and Flames will play the Blackhawks in the first round. The team that finishes more would play whoever earns second place between the Ducks and Oilers in the opening round.

Next: St. Louis Blues: Jake Allen Sticking It To Doubters

If the St. Louis Blues advance past the first round, which has only happened twice during the team’s current playoff appearance streak, their next opponent would near certainly come from the same division. Plenty is up for grabs before the NHL playoffs begin on Wednesday, April 12.