Bruce Boudreau is not a superhero. Playoffs aren’t his super villain. Game 7s aren’t his kryptonite. Those things are made up. So is the narrative that Boudreau can’t win.
No matter how the season ends, Boudreau gave the Minnesota Wild a better chance to win the Stanley Cup than at any point since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed.
On Tuesday night, the Wild finally had the breakthrough they needed in games 1-3, scoring two goals against the previously impenetrable Jake Allen and shutting out the Blues to close the series to a 3-1 St. Louis advantage.
It marked the first time there was a true outcome in the series. By that, I mean: The team that played better actually won.
You know about the shot differential. At even strength, the Wild have put 43 shots on goal than the Blues over the first four games. Now, shots can be deceiving. When a team is losing at the end of a game, they fire shots from all over and rarely score. What we’ve heard from Blues head coach Mike Yeo is that his team has limited the Wild to mostly outside shots. That’s sort of true, but it doesn’t mean the Blues are playing better.
The website Corsica Hockey has a formula that takes the percentage chance of scoring on each type of shot and spits out a stat called “Expected Goals.” Basically, what the score should be or would be over a long period of time with the same shots. At 5-on-5, the Wild should be outscoring the Blues 8-5 in the series and in all situations (5-on-5 and power plays), the score should be 11-7.
So it isn’t quite the blood bath as the shot counter suggests, but the series also shouldn’t be 3-1 in St. Louis’s favor. Corsica gives the Wild credit for 21 even-strength scoring chances to just 14 for the Blues.
At the same time, even after giving up two goals in Game 4, Jake Allen has a .966 save percentage in the series. The single-season record for save percentage is .938 by Boston’s Tim Thomas. When Jonathan Quick led the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 2011-12, he had a .946 save percentage.
It couldn’t be any clearer that Allen has stolen the series to this point.
If you think the Wild don’t have any finishers, well, that would be a tough opinion to back since Minnesota finished second in the NHL in even-strength shooting percentage this year, only behind the Washington Capitals. Nine forwards shot in double digits. Most of the team’s scorers like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter etc. performed much better under Boudreau’s system than in the past under Yeo.
The Wild also out-scored teams by more during the regular season at even-strength than any other team in the West, posting a 55.5% Goals For Percentage.
And if you think regular season success doesn’t always translate, well, you’re right in a way because only one team can win the Cup, but last year’s Cup winner had a 55.4% Goals For Percentage, 2014-15’s was 54.2%, 2013-14’s champ had 55.2%.
That’s right. In terms of out-scoring opponents during the regular season at even-strength, the Wild were on par with the last three Cup winners.
It’s as clear as a wide open net that Boudreau and his team not only have been good enough to win in Round 1, but strong enough this year to be a legit Stanley Cup contender.
Now, what about his history of coming up short in the playoffs? Well, Bruce Boudreau is a victim of his own great coaching. Because he consistently overachieves in the regular season, he raises the expectation bar.
ESPN Insider and author of the book Stat Shot Rob Vollman studied the effects of coaches on their team to see how many beat expectations. Boudreau consistently raised the level of his team throughout his career, even dating back to the minor leagues.
“Expectations are based 65% on how the team did the previous season, and 35% the league average, Vollman said. “So, a good coach keeps a good team good, improves an average team, and boosts a bad team by more than they would have on their own.
“From that perspective, he has added 72.5 points in 763 NHL games, which ranks third all-time among active coaches. It also works out to 7.8 points per 82-game season, which leads active coaches. He was also dominant in the AHL, where he added 58.5 points in 655 games, which is 7.3 points per 82 games. So, if he’s not the best, then he’s certainly among them.”
When the Wild entered 2016-17, they were expected to be competing for a playoff spot at best, not posting Stanley Cup-contender goal differentials. Not a single one of ESPN’s analysts picked them to compete for the Central Division before the season. Only one said Boudreau had a chance at the Jack Adams Award for best coach.
As the season went along, the Wild became Cup contenders because their much-improved play from the past several years.
But he’s an overachiever, not a miracle worker. There is only so far you can usually go in the playoffs without a future Hall of Fame No. 1 center, future Hall of Fame No. 1 defenseman and good goaltending. Try to find one Cup-winning team that doesn’t fit that bill.
In Washington, Nicklas Backstrom might end up in the Hall, but Mike Green on the blueline and Jose Theodore, Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov certainly won’t be there. In Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf is one of the best ever. Cam Fowler and Jonas Hiller are not.
Ryan Suter might be close. Devan Dubnyk is very good. But an aged Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, while very solid, are not Steve Yzerman.
Another thing to remember when calling Boudreau a playoff failure: He has a .500 winning percentage in the playoffs and .558 while he was in Anaheim. Mike Babcock isn’t that far ahead with a .568. Of course, Babs had Datsyuk, Lidstrom and decent goaltending and won a Cup. Claude Julien .558, but had Bergeron, Chara and Thomas. Quennville .551, but Toews, Keith, Crawford.
Boudreau’s success shouldn’t be downplayed because of he hasn’t won a Cup. It’s the randomness of Game 7’s, the weird nature of goalies in the playoffs and his lack of the Cup-combination of top center, defenseman and goalie that’s akin to having an elite quarterback in football.
But alas, if the Wild lose to the Blues, you’ll hear that he isn’t a winner. Unless, he does pull off a superhero comeback, nothing aside from a Cup would go farther toward blowing that ridiculous sentiment to space than beating the Blues after being down three games.
It’s not likely, but it’s not impossible considering how badly the Wild have outplayed the Blues. Then, just like with other coaches and athletes who supposedly couldn’t come through in the playoffs (it’s been said aboutSidney Crosby, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, etc.), Boudreau could have his opportunity.
And if he doesn’t get his opportunity to smash that trope, this season shouldn’t be seen as “same old Wild.” It should be seen as the year Boudreau put the Wild in a position to finally be a legit contender.