It’s a crucial time in the NHL and that day could very well come on Saturday for the Blues.
If they win, they’re in. As simple as that.
“I didn’t know that,” said Captain Ryan O’Reilly after Friday’s optional practice at the Centene Community Ice Center. “That’s good to know.”
Professional athletes and coaches are known to have tunnel vision during the season. You always focus on the moment, on the next game. So it’s totally believable that O’Reilly didn’t know.
But it is true. A win in Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against the Minnesota Wild secures the Blues fourth straight playoff spot.
Even with a regular loss, the Blues will win if the Los Angeles Kings lose at home to Columbus late Saturday night.
It’s a little more complicated when the Blues lose in overtime (or on penalties), but only slightly more complicated. If the Blues lose in overtime (or shootout) to earn a point in the standings, they secure a playoff berth:
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1.) When the kings lose in regulations or overtime.
2.) Or if Vegas loses to Edmonton on regular Saturday.
So it could very well happen on Saturday.
“Any year you want to win as soon as possible,” O’Reilly said. “And that is a chance for us tomorrow. So I definitely think we’ll think about it. But again, we just have to stay in the details of the game and get things right. And know that it will not be easy.”
Of course, just making the playoffs is just one of three tiers in the Blues’ postseason puzzle.
Second, they want to avoid a wildcard spot by finishing ahead of Nashville and Dallas in the Central Division. Both the Predators and Stars have 89 points with identical records of 42-27-5, so they’re nine points behind the Blues.
The reason the Blues want to avoid wildcard status is to avoid a likely first-round matchup with Colorado or Calgary, who are on track to win the Central and Pacific divisions, respectively. The Avalanche and Flames would also have home advantage.
The earliest the Blues can reach third place in the Central is Sunday – and thus avoid wildcard status. But it will probably take longer.
And the third level of the playoff puzzle is to earn second place by finishing ahead of Minnesota in the standings. That would give the Blues home field advantage in the Blues Wild opening round of the playoffs.
The fight for second place in Central could go until the end of the regular season.
“Yeah, that could be for sure,” said coach Craig Berube. “I think it’s important to have ice cream at home. You know, we just want to be consistent here. That’s the biggest key. We just have to focus on tomorrow’s game. That’s it.”
The Blues went into the weekend with the fifth-best home record in the NHL, 25-9-4. But the Savages are even better at home: 26-7-2. That’s why you want to finish second. If there’s a Game 7 in the series, you’ll want it to be in the Enterprise Center if you’re the Blues.
“I think our building is an electrical place and we want to be there as much as possible,” O’Reilly said. “The home ice is definitely important. Again, you don’t just want to look at the results and be one step ahead of us here. It’s game after game and we have to outplay our opponents and build our game with that playoff mentality.
“But yeah, it’s something we want and will fight for and it’s going to be close.”
Both the Blues and Wild go into action on Saturday with 98 points, but the Wild have only played 73 games against the Blues’ 74. However, a regular win for the Blues on Saturday will ruin the game for the Wild. And if the teams finish the regular season with identical scores, the Blues get second place based on the first tiebreak, which are regular wins. The Blues have 40 regular wins; the savages have 33.
“Obviously they’re playing really well now, too,” O’Reilly said. “We only see her once (on Saturday). But yeah I think it will be until the last few games to see who takes home the ice.
A week ago in St. Louis, the Blues rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the third period and clinched a 4-3 win over the Wild with a Robert Thomas goal in overtime. But that emotional OT loss hasn’t deterred the Wild from its path. Not a little. They won their next three games – over the Kings, the Oilers and the Stars.
In fact, Minnesota is 12-1-2 in their last 15 games. That’s an interesting number. Why? Because since Berube took over as Blues head coach in November 2018, the Blues are 12-1-2 against the Wild.
The law of averages states that the recent lopsided record between teams will eventually even out.
The Blues just don’t want it to happen on Saturday.
“It’s going to be very physical,” O’Reilly said. “Even the last game against them was a physical game with tight controls. They are a relentless team. They work, they test hard, they defend hard. It’s one of those games that has that playoff style. … It will be an intense game. But I like that. We need that in preparation at this time of year.”