Our lone selection for last night’s NHL action did not come through as the Anaheim Ducks clinched the Pacific Division title with a 5-2 victory over the visiting San Jose Sharks. The win puts Anaheim five points up on San Jose with just two games to go, and also puts the Ducks into the first place overall in the Western Conference, although the St. Louis Blues sit just a single point behind Anaheim with one game in hand. This battle for top spot in the conference is for home ice throughout the Western Conference side of the playoffs as well as who will play either the Dallas Stars or the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. For their part, the Sharks will play the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, which should be a dandy of a series. As teams lock into their playoff positions, games become a little trickier to gauge as teams rest goaltenders and top players alike to get ready for what they hope is a long playoff run. There are 11 games on the NHL slate tonight and we will need a turnaround this evening to get back on track for the week.
St. Louis Blues @ Minnesota Wild
My Pick – BLUES (-123) @ 5dimes.eu (Best Odds)
As mentioned above, there are playoff bound teams who are choosing to rest their goalies or their top players to avoid injury and prepare for their respective playoff runs, and tonight’s game between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild is no exception. John Curry will make his Minnesota debut between the pipes for the Wild this evening, becoming the fifth goalie to start a game for Mike Yeo’s team this season. The reason for this move is clear: Minnesota is locked into the first of two Wildcard spots in the Western Conference and cannot move up or down in the standings. It is quite the opposite for the Blues as St. Louis is in a very tight battle for both the Central Division title as well as first overall in the Western Conference. Therefore, the Blues are going to their number one goalie tonight in Ryan Miller to get them back on track after three consecutive losses. Clearly, the Blues are one of the NHL’s best teams and their numbers simply don’t lie. The Blues are 4th overall in goals per game with 3.1 on the year, despite not having anyone in their lineup with more than a point per game, showing their offensive balance is among the best in the entire league. Their defensive numbers are even better as they rank 3rd overall in goals against per game with 2.3 and even better with 2.2 goals against per game on the road, good for 2nd in the league. Their road penalty kill of 87.8% ranks tops in the NHL and they killed off all four of their shorthanded situations in their last road game on Sunday against a solid Chicago Blackhawks powerplay. The Wild offense ranks all the way back to 23rd in the NHL and I find it difficult to envision them putting too many goals behind one of the league’s top goaltenders in Ryan Miller and one of, if not the league’s best defensive team in the Blues. St. Louis has won seven of their last ten games on the road, four of their last five games on the road against the Wild, and have won five straight over Minnesota overall. I will take the better team with much more at stake tonight to come out hard and snap their three game losing skid.