These two teams come into this game as playoff locks in my eyes. The Leafs are 32-14-4 while the Minnesota Wild are 31-14-3. Their almost identical records do not tell the complete story of their seasons though, as Minnesota has been great but recently has lost three of four.
Toronto is also in a slump as of late, dropping three straight including a five to two loss against the worst team in the league, the Montreal Canadiens. Toronto and Minnesota both have high hopes for the postseason, and will try to use this game to get themselves back into stride.
These teams met back in December in a game that went into a shootout. The Wild blew a three to nothing lead, but would end up taking the win after 5 minutes of overtime and a shootout.
These teams have almost identical seasons on paper. They are three points apart with Toronto having played two more games, they have goal differentials of 38 (Minnesota) and 39 (Toronto), and they’re both in third place in their respective divisions
Auston Matthews and Kirill Kaprizov are both having phenomenal years, with Matthews currently in the running for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s leading goal scorer each season.
Defensive and Goaltending Matchup
Back when these teams met in December the Minnesota goal was filled by Cam Talbot, while Jack Campbell played netminder for the Maple Leafs. Both of these teams are fairly high scoring, but the most important thing for both is solid goaltending.
The Maple Leafs straight up win when their defense and goaltender are playing well. They have lost only one game in the past month where they allowed three or less goals. Basically, when their defense and goalies show up, they win.
On the other hand, Toronto has also lost every game that they allow four or more goals except for two in the last month. There is a very clear path to victory for Toronto if they can get their; stay solid on defense and put the puck in the net.
Now that’s a lot easier said than done obviously. Every team wants to play solid defense while scoring goals, and it’s not as easy as it might seem. But for Minnesota at least, it’s not that simple. They have a much more complicated pattern of losing via shutout and then going on winning streaks including games where they dominate and games they barely scrape out.
Cam Talbot has been playing less than stellar hockey since the all-star break. I expect to see backup goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen in net for Minnesota.
Analyzing the Matchup
In their past three games, Toronto has allowed four first period goals and five third period goals. If the Maple Leafs want to win this game they need to start strong and finish strong. You cannot allow multiple goals in the first and final periods if you expect to stay consistent and win big games.
For Minnesota, Kirill Kaprizov will be a big factor. He is on pace for one of the best individual seasons in Minnesota Wild team history, and will have to continue producing in important games like this one to push his team into the playoffs.
I like the Minnesota Wild in this game, although I have respect for the Leafs and what they can do when they’re hot. However, the Leafs are two and seven in their last nine against the Central Division, and the Wild are not a bad road team. The Leafs are good at home and I expect them to cover the puck line. I’m looking at a high scoring close game, 5-4 for the Wild.
Best Bets: Wild +140, Over 6.5 -110, Minnesota +1.5 goals at -230