St. Louis – Ryan Suter says it’s time for the Wild to “find out what we’re made of.’’
To win this series, they may need to change what they are.
In a season that was supposed to alter everything for the Wild in terms of perception and reality, a team frustrated by recent playoff performances is getting stumped yet again, this time by a statistically inferior opponent and a coach who intimately knows his old team’s limitations.
The Wild will face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday and Wednesday at Scottrade Center, needing at least one road victory to extend the series. At least two road victories during the series will be required to advance.
The Wild is playing in its seventh playoff series since the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, moves that elevated expectations inside the organization as much as in the fan base. The team has won two first-round playoff series since.
Three years ago, the Wild came back from a 2-0 deficit and won a Game 7 in Colorado. It was thrilling theater. Was it meaningful? Perhaps not, now that the Avalanche has proved to be utterly fraudulent.
Two years ago, the Wild beat the Blues in six games. Was that meaningful? Perhaps not, since the Blues and star David Backes seemed intent on getting Ken Hitchcock fired.
If the Wild can’t rally to win this series, the team will be 2-5 in playoff series since the big signings, with no appearances in the conference finals. Wild owner Craig Leipold didn’t spend $200 million on two players to watch his team fail in the early rounds.
What would compound the frustration is the presence on the opposing bench of Mike Yeo. A Blues victory would provide further proof that he was not the Wild’s primary problem. That would be an inconvenient truth.
The current Wild players quit on Yeo. And through two games in this series they have failed for Bruce Boudreau.
Yeo is coaching this series almost as if he knows the Wild’s flaws. Minnesota rose to the top of the Western Conference by converting strong defense to rapid offense, moving the puck crisply out of the defensive end and scoring on the rush.
Yeo has played what could be accused of being boring hockey. And it has worked. He has instructed his defensemen to play conservatively and his forwards to pack in tight on defense. The result: With no true sharpshooters, the Wild has found itself frustrated.
In almost seven full periods of play, the Wild has not scored a 5-on-5 or a 5-on-4 goal. Zach Parise converted a beautiful pass from Mikko Koivu on a 6-on-5, and slammed in a puck in front of the crease on a 5-on-3. And that’s all, folks.
Yeo is in the heads of Wild players. He has had his players rough up Mikael Granlund, and Granlund has disappeared. He has encouraged the kind of instigation that can lead to a 4-on-4, knowing 4-on-4s are a Wild weakness.
When Yeo’s Wild beat Colorado in the playoffs, he fumed every time an Avalanche player started a conflict to create a 4-on-4. In this series, he is begging for that kind of open ice.
After practice on Saturday, Boudreau and his players correctly noted that one goal could have altered the tenor of the series, and that a victory on Sunday would as well. “I think it’s about believing in what we’re doing and not changing it,’’ goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We’ve got to bump it up by 5 or 10 percent and we’ll be there.’’
This presumes that more effort will create more goals. As with extended playoff success in the Suter-Parise era, this remains to be seen.
Yeo is in the Wild’s heads, and doubt is in the Wild’s hearts. Win Sunday, and Minnesota can make it a series. Lose Sunday, and Yeo might not be able to maintain his poker face much longer.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org