The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here, and the Minnesota Wild has an opportunity to make a run.
In the first year of Bruce Boudreau, the Wild finished second in the Western Conference with 106 points behind only Chicago. The 106 points, which included 49 wins, set a franchise record.
It's their fifth straight trip to the postseason, but for the first time in recent memory, it feels like a year where the Wild could make a run to the Stanley Cup. There are all kinds of storylines heading into the first-round match-up with the St. Louis Blues. Here are four to keep an eye on.
Mike Yeo's Return To Minnesota
One of the biggest and most obvious storylines for the Wild facing the St. Louis Blues is Mike Yeo's return to Minnesota. After being fired by Wild management last season, Yeo took a job as an assistant with the Blues and was the head coach in-waiting. Ken Hitchcock was let go in January, and Yeo took over on Feb. 1. The Blues have won nine of their last 12 games heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While Yeo may never say it publicly, there might not be a greater motivation for him in this series than to eliminate his former team. Yeo still has a residence in the Twin Cities as his oldest son is finishing his senior year of high school. Yeo facing his former team will dominate the storylines, at least until Game 1 is over, but especially if the Blues get ahead at any point in the series. He can say this series isn't about beating his former team until he's blue in the face, but nobody will completely believe him. It will be interesting to see how the Blues might use it as motivation throughout the series.
At one point this year, Devan Dubnyk was among the best goaltenders in the NHL and the biggest reason the Wild was on top of the Western Conference. It's no secret that their slide in March had a lot to do with Dubnyk giving up more goals. That said, he finished the regular season with a 40-19 record, a 2.25 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Both those figures are still good for top-10 in the NHL.
Dubnyk has played better of late, and it has correlated to the Wild winning their last four games entering the playoffs. If there's one thing you want entering the postseason, it's winning and feeling good about how you're playing when the season is on the line. A hot goaltender can go a long way towards making a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild needs Dubnyk at his best with the season on the line.
Bruce Boudreau's Playoff History
Bruce Boudreau is a top-10 coach in the NHL. It could be argued he's even better than that if he won a few more playoff Game 7s. Boudreau is known for being an excellent regular season head coach, but his teams have struggled to win with the season on the line. For his career, Boudreau is just 1-7 when playoff series get to a Game 7. He was let go by Anaheim last year because the Ducks lost a Game 7.
While the Wild has home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is no guarantee that this series won't go seven games. If it does, it will be interesting to see how the Wild plays and responds with the season on the line. Boudreau is what makes this team so interesting. He led them to a franchise-record 106 points with virtually the same roster that Yeo had last year, when they snuck into the playoffs and lost in the first round to the Dallas Stars.
Get The Morning Coffee Ready
One thing we do know with the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that with every game on TV, there will be a lot of late nights watching playoff hockey followed by early mornings when we head back to our jobs. Game 1 for the Wild and Blues is set for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center. There is a game in front of them also, which could make that start even later. The series had to start with games Wednesday and Friday night due to a concert already planned for Xcel Energy Center on Saturday.
Game 3 will be in St. Louis Sunday afternoon, but it will be another late night for Game 4, with that puck drop in St. Louis set for 8:30 p.m. The bottom line: You'll be up late on those game nights, so catch up on sleep on others and have plenty of coffee ready the morning after. You'll need it.
It should be an intense series filled with plenty of emotion. Xcel Energy Center will be packed, and these two teams know each other well. The Wild eliminated the Blues from the playoffs two years ago, but a lot has changed since then. If the Wild gets past the Blues, they'll face the winner of the Blackhawks/Predators. For Wild fans, we all know what that means. But for now, beating St. Louis is the priority because in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anything can and usually does happen.
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