St. Louis Blues Game Preview: Team Looks to Start Postseason Strong in Game 1 Against Minnesota Wild

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Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

After winning first place in the Central Division last week, the St. Louis Blues will kick off their 2015 Stanley Cup playoff schedule on Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild. It’s the most favorably-seeded matchup the Blues have had since 2011-12, when they faced the seventh-seeded San Jose Sharks, but this year’s series against the Wild will by no means be a drop in the bucket.

The Wild have been one of the NHL’s best teams over the past few months, going 28-9-3 since they traded for goalie Devan Dubnyk on January 15. They’ve had plenty of success against the Blues, going 2-2-1 against them and outscoring them 13-11, though the Blues did gain some momentum on Saturday by beating the Wild 4-2 in their regular season finale. With former Blues Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold having been added to the Wild’s roster at the trade deadline, there’s an even higher level of competitiveness when the Wild play the Blues.

The biggest storyline on Thursday will be Jake Allen‘s official ascension into the Blues’ starting role. The rookie will be making his first-ever NHL playoff start, though he did see brief action (and made his NHL debut) in a 2012 postseason game against the Los Angeles Kings. Allen beat out Brian Elliott, who coach Ken Hitchcock declared confidence in as the starter just a few weeks ago, and who Hitchcock has publicly praised nearly all season long, saying that Elliott played well enough to deserve playoff time in place of Ryan Miller last postseason.

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As far as the skaters, the biggest snub involves the likely move to make defenseman Robert Bortuzzo a healthy scratch in Game 1. Bortuzzo, a big, gritty blueliner, has really made a name for himself since being traded to St. Louis by the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. The Blues are 9-3-1 with Bortuzzo in the lineup. However, they’re expected to instead use defenseman Carl Gunnarsson against Minnesota, who was expected to be a significant playoff contributor when he was acquired last offseason but had been in the doghouse down the stretch in the regular season.

Next: Blues Projected Lineup