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Updated: April 10th, 2014 7:20pm
Zulgad: After much thought, Blues would be best 1st-round matchup

Zulgad: After much thought, Blues would be best 1st-round matchup

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

As the Minnesota Wild prepared to play host to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, there were those who suggested a loss might not be the worst thing for the home team.

Entering the day, the Wild was in line to face the Blues in the first round of the playoffs. That's because the Wild is locked into the seventh spot in the Western Conference, making it the top wild card team in the West.

That means the Wild is going to face the division winner with the second-best record in the conference. This could end up being Anaheim (leads the Pacific and the conference with 112 points) or St. Louis (leads the Central). There also is a possibility that Colorado could jump past the Blues in the Central.

The feeling among the masses is that the tough-as-nails Blues are the worst possible matchup for the Wild and that a loss Thursday would help Minnesota by giving St. Louis one more point than the Ducks.

This subject was broached on the "Mackey & Judd" show early this week, causing more thought to be given to the matter.

After careful consideration, I've come to an easy conclusion: Bring on the Blues.

No, I'm not crazy and, yes, I know St. Louis had a nine-game winning streak against the Wild before Thursday.

None of this matters.

What matters is that a Wild-Blues first-round series would give the NHL exactly what it was hoping for when it realigned the divisions for this season. That's a better chance for some good, old-fashioned hockey hatred.

A real rivalry that could get us a step closer to the Wild having an opponent it despised. The North Stars had this with the Blackhawks for several years in the 1980s and it was great. It also was a product of the fact that the upstart Blackhawks upset the heavily favored North Stars in the first round of the 1981-82 postseason. Long ago, the North Stars and Blues couldn't stand each other.

At this point, some of you are pointing out that the Wild had a rivalry with Vancouver when both teams were in the Northwest Division and after Minnesota eliminated the Canucks in seven games in the conference semifinals in 2003.

Here's the reality: That wasn't a rivalry, it was a brush fire. And it was extinguished quickly.

The NHL's plan with realignment was to create playoff series between division teams instead of just seeding conference teams one through eight. League officials, however, saw that there might be an issue if it just went with the top four teams in each division because that would create a great chance that a deserving club, with more points, would be snubbed.

That accounts for their decision to create the wild card concept.

But if the Wild faces the Ducks in the first round, how much animosity are the fan bases or teams going to muster for each other? The answer is none. Yawn.

St. Louis or Colorado would be a far more compelling series, even if the Wild doesn't get past the Blues or the Avalanche.

The Wild sees St. Louis and Colorado more often than they do the Ducks. The Wild, even when it wasn't in the same division with the Blues, had some intense games with St. Louis.

Imagine if they actually went toe-to-toe for five, six or seven games in the postseason. The Blues like to beat you up and the Wild would have to find a way to counter that. It would be fun to watch, for however long it lasted.

It also could lead to far more intense games between the two in the regular season in 2014-15.

That should be the goal for Wild fans. Find a team to hate.

That isn't going to be possible until Minnesota faces a physical and nasty division opponent in a playoff series. The Blackhawks, last year's first-round opponent, were a wonderfully skilled group that was more than willing to stay away from playing physical.

The Blues would be just the opposite.

So bring 'em on. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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