- Craig Custance
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Inexperienced goalies: This is a series between powerhouse teams, but with Blues coach Ken Hitchcock going with Jake Allen in goal, both teams will be led by goalies with no NHL postseason experience of note.
The playoffs have given Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk an opportunity to reflect on the last time he was in the postseason, and he had to reach back to the ECHL with the Stockton Thunder in 2007.
“It’s been awhile now,” Dubnyk said following Thursday’s morning skate. “Obviously, it’s a different stage to be on but [they’re] all things you can draw on, different experiences that happened.”
Dubnyk pointed out that the pressure to win down the stretch during the regular season was preparation for what’s coming when the puck drops in the playoffs. Minnesota’s slow start meant little room for error and Dubnyk was up to the task, going 27-9-2 with a .936 save percentage after being acquired from Arizona in in mid-January.
“I’m going to keep that feeling I had in those games and make sure I’m having fun,” he said.
As for Allen, his confidence and strong play during the final part of the season has his teammates expecting big things. His ability to move the puck may be an advantage the Blues have in neutralizing the Wild's forecheck.
“The guy obviously likes to move the puck,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “Any time you have a goalie back there who can move it and help on transition, it’s going to be a big deal.”
Opportunity for Bergenheim: Before trading for forward Sean Bergenheim, Wild coach Mike Yeo and his staff watched a lot of film of his success during the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011. It was a big motivation for bringing him to Minnesota, so it makes sense that Bergenheim draws into the lineup on the Minnesota fourth line while Matt Cooke gets completely healthy.
“He was real instrumental in their team achieving more than anybody thought they would,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo on Thursday. “The way he was scoring goals are ways we would need to score goals in this type of playoff series against this type of team."
The Wild acquired Bergenheim in a February deal with the Florida Panthers. He scored once in 17 games after the trade, but has 17 points in 23 career playoff games with the Lightning and Panthers, making him dangerous on Minnesota’s fourth line.
“We need to make sure we have guys that can defend, but we also want to make sure we have guys who are a threat,” Yeo said.
Experienced Blues youth: The Blues' past playoff struggles have been attributed in part to a lack of goal-scoring. Adding Paul Stastny during the offseason has helped, but it’s been the maturation of young players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz that has made the Blues' offense so dangerous. Tarasenko scored four times in six playoff games last season and said he feeds off the energy that comes with playing this time of year.
“If you get more excited, it’s good for you,” he explained on Thursday.
To knock out a balanced Wild group, the Blues will need a similar breakout from Schwartz, who finished the regular season with a career-high 28 goals and 63 points. He has just one goal in 12 career playoff games, but has gained experience along the way.
“You get more confidence as you play,” Schwartz told ESPN.com on Thursday. “I’ve been in the playoffs now a couple years. That learning experience helps out. You want to be a part of this team. Your role gets bigger as you get more experience and that has definitely helped my comfort.”
St. Louis -- The St. Louis Blues host the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series on Thursday Night at Scottrade Center.