There are some choices.
The Minnesota Wild are currently battling with some tough competition for the top spot of the Central Division, and could still finish anywhere from first to a spot in the Wild Card. That gives us an abundance of options for who the Wild could be facing in the first round.
It could be any of the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, Seattle Kraken, or even the Edmonton Oilers. That’s a lot of options — but what matchup do you want for the Wild? Whether you want a test of strength against a formidable opponent or a team that the Wild have had the power over for multiple years, just to get out of the first round for the first time in a very long time; there are possibilities.
We decided to ask around Hockey Wilderness and get their answers as to who they want to see face the Wild in the first round of the playoffs.
Grace — The Winnipeg Jets are the easy pick for my money. They were solid throughout the season but have been wobbly as of late. They’re 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and the end of the season is not when you want to be losing what makes you click. Furthermore, the Wild have had their number this season, and as we can recall from the disappointing first round exit last season, sometimes a team is just good against another team.
A playoff series can live and die by its goalie, and while Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies on the planet, Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury have been so so so good for weeks. If they can play like they did during the Wild’s long no scoring stretch, that would make for a goalie head to head that would be fun to watch. Narrative. And speaking of that no scoring stretch, it seems the Wild have recovered their scoring touch (all they needed was to get rid of dead-weight Kirill Kaprizov). Between solid goaltending, Kaprizov’s triumphant return, and actually scoring goals, the Wild have what it takes to eat the Jets for lunch.
Matt — Despite Kaprizov’s absence, this team has shown that it can still tally up the wins. It means that there is still lots to shake out in terms of standings. At the moment, the Wild are lined up to face the Colorado Avalanche in the first round — a nightmare matchup — but the dream would be facing a team a little further north. The Wild are 3-0-0 in their games against the Winnipeg Jets, out scoring them 14-4 in those games; they have had the Jets number all season.
Connor Hellebuyck has the ability to steal a series — a frightening prospect — but the Jets have been in a spiral since the end of January. Secondary scoring has dried up, and the Jets have been floundering in the standings.
The Wild forecheck is too much for an undersized Jets defense and their coach doesn’t know how to get out of his own way. The Jets are the easy pick.
Justin — Take note that the Wild could quite easily end up playing a Pacific Division team in the first round. They are only three points out of first place in the Central, and if they fall to a wild card spot during Kaprizov’s extended absence they would have a 50/50 shot at playing the Pacific Division top seed. Currently, that’s the Vegas Golden Knights, who have questionable goaltending and some of the worst scoring-chance analytics of any team in a playoff spot. Vegas could be a paper tiger if they hold onto the top seed in the Pacific. Given that the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets are playing some all-around good hockey, as well as the star power of the Colorado Avalanche, a matchup with the Golden Knights may be more favorable.
Thomas — I think when it comes to wanting a playoff matchup you have to consider goaltending above everything and the idea of facing the Jets with Hellebuyck, or even Jake Oettinger with the Stars, is a possible scary one. Ideally, I think I would like to see the Wild face up against any team from the terrible Pacific Division, because they can handle them (and has) so well.
Whether it is the very bad goaltending of the Kraken, Jonathan Quick being depended on to play a full series by Vegas, or even the Oilers brutal situation they have going on over there — all of those options are better than any Central team and their netminder. But if I would have to choose one, it would be the Golden Knights.
Joel Eriksson Ek can suffocate Jack Eichel’s line and after that, they don’t really have a lot of scoring options. The Wild will kill them with depth, and that would be just so pleasing to watch after they stole the first round from Minnesota two years ago.
Eric — The Western Conference is unbelievably close this year. The Wild sit just one point out of first place in their division, and if they can get ahead of the Stars while fending off the surging Avalanche, they could win the Central. Their reward for a strong season finish would be getting to face a wild card team instead of a divisional opponent like the Avs, and there’s a solid chance that team would be the Seattle Kraken. We all remember when the Kraken embarrassed the Wild back in November, when we still weren’t convinced that the second-year expansion team was for real. Just a week later, the Wild shut them out with a solid defensive performance and 28 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury.
We know the Kraken are for real now, but we haven’t seen them face the Wild since those two games in early November. But Seattle provides the easiest path to the second round for Minnesota out of any of their possible opponents, for two reasons. The Kraken are, by far, the league leaders in Goals For Above Expected. That doesn’t mean their offensive performance is a complete mirage, but it does mean that the model (in this case I’m using MoneyPuck) thinks they’re scoring goals that they shouldn’t be. The Minnesota Wild happen to be near the bottom of this ranking, meaning the model thinks they should score more than they do. We can debate the merit of these models, but taking a look at the Kraken lineup, where their scoring comes from, and their position in the standings, it’s not hard to see that they might be overachieving a little. They could ride that to an improbable playoff run, sure, but teams like this don’t often do well in the postseason.
The other key factor in why the Kraken are an ideal first round opponent is their goaltending, or lack thereof. A team that might struggle a little bit offensively can steal a series with good goaltending in the right moments. The Kraken are not that team. They have the worst goaltending of any playoff team not just this year but in recent memory. Martin Jones has started the majority of Seattle’s games this year, wearing an abysmal .887 save percentage. Phillipp Grubauer recently won back the starter’s net from Jones with a slightly better .892. I know GAA is pretty much a useless stat, but when both of your goalies are giving up 3 goals a game on average I think you have a problem. The Kraken aren’t a bad team, far from it, but I don’t think they’re going to win a round this year, and if the Wild can go on a bit of a run to win the Central I think they’d love to have the Kraken waiting for them in the first round.
Who do you want the Wild to face in the first round? Let us know!