ST. PAUL, Minn. – If you didn’t see this coming, you haven’t been paying attention. Or you haven’t watched much hockey in the last decade. Or both.
In the flashy and noisy pregame video that the Wild have played before both home playoff games, they have shown the press conference from last May, on the floor of the arena, when Bruce Boudreau was announced as the team’s new coach. There was much hope and excitement then, as one of the best regular season coaches in NHL history came back to the town where his pro hockey career started.
It was easy to gloss over Boudreau’s playoff struggles. Time and again his Washington and Anaheim teams were scary good in the regular season, and time and again, they’d flame out early in the playoffs.
Now Bruce is back in Minnesota, where he first arrived in the ‘70s as a talented and perhaps underworking forward for the Fighting Saints of the old WHA. He’s the coach now, working his regular season magic, and here we are. The regular season was a blast. Best in team history. A March slump is all that kept the Wild from hanging a division title banner. And now we’re in the playoffs, and everything is different – none of it in a good way.
Boudreau has coached two playoff games in Minnesota. The Wild have scored two goals. The Wild have lost two games. It’s inexplicable, and yet, totally predictable.
The guy whose regular season failure behind the Wild bench ultimately brought Boudreau back to Minnesota, Blues coach Mike Yeo, is smiling. The Wild fans, and those who admire Boudreau’s overall body of work, are shaking their heads.
To be sure, the series isn’t over. Far from it. The Blues, without Kevin Shattenkirk and without David Backes and without T.J. Oshie seem like a much less dangerous team than the one Yeo’s Wild upset in the opening round two years ago. But the stark reality is that there are at most five games left, and the Wild need to win four of them, including at minimum two on the road to get past this round.
To Boudreau’s credit, he’s not getting tight. He’s saying the right things, and trying to paint an optimistic picture of this rocky road that he’s been down too many times, just never with this franchise.
“Well, both games were 2-1,” he said after Friday’s loss. “If they were six-nothing or something, I’d say it’s going to be a tough task. Not that it’s not going to be a tough task. But let’s face it: Both games could’ve gone either way. So I don’t see why we can’t go in there and do the same thing to them that they did to us…So it’s not impossible.”
Not impossible, but definitely improbable. Just as improbable as a coach that seems to do no wrong in the regular season, be it on the East Coast, on the West Coast or in the State of Hockey. But come playoff time, it has always been a different story.
Perhaps the reality is you get what you’re going to get.
If you bring a puppy home, it’s going to cuddle with you and be the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. And then it’s going to crap on the floor.
If you hire Tommy Kramer to be your quarterback, he’s going to thrill you with a furious rally in the final two minutes. Then he’s going to throw an ugly interception.
If Bruce Boudreau is your coach, you’re going to have a blast in the regular season. And more often than not, the playoffs aren’t going to last long.
Boudreau is back in Minnesota now. And as much as we thought this time it might be different, here we are.