ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Wild will wake up on Friday morning holding a one-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
At least, that’s what the standings will say.
But after the apathetic and pathetic performance put forth by Minnesota in a 4-3 overtime loss to the woeful Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, the 18,816 who were inside Xcel Energy Center, or anyone who watched the game on television, will tell you this:
The Wild have no business being in a playoff spot. And don’t give me any of that stuff about bottom seeds in the playoffs making a Stanley Cup run like Nashville did last season. The Predators looked primed to make that run; the Wild look more interested in hitting the golf course than anything.
Actually, this team appears intent on doing everything it can to make coach Bruce Boudreau’s life as difficult as possible and so far they have spent much of the season succeeding in doing so.
A 5-2 victory over the surprising Vegas Golden Knights at home on Friday was followed by a no-show embarrassment in a 6-1 loss the next night in Dallas. Two days later, the Wild gave up a goal 45 seconds into their game in St. Louis and then steamrolled the Blues in a 6-2 victory.
Thursday night marked the beginning of a five-game home stand for Minnesota. The Wild entered with an 18-4-4 record at the X and were facing a Coyotes team that had a league-low 33 points.
So how did the Wild follow up that impressive win against St. Louis? Exactly like you might expect.
They jumped to a 3-0 lead by midway through the game and were up 3-1 after two. But the Wild quit playing in the third period and the Coyotes tied the score at 3-3 on Nick Cousins’ goal with 19 seconds left and Arizona goalie Antti Raanta having been pulled. The Coyotes won it on Clayton Keller’s goal at 3 minutes, 55 seconds of overtime.
“That’s not good enough,” Boudreau said when asked about his postgame message to the team. “It’s a pretty simple message after the game. That’s the message from here on in. You’re fighting for your playoff life and you come out and blow a 3-0 lead to a team that isn’t going to be in the playoffs. You can’t be successful if you do that.”
One would hope that Boudreau’s message was harsher than that. Boudreau, though, could be forgiven if he’s out of answers when it comes to this underachieving collection. The Wild will now face Chicago (Saturday), the New York Rangers (Tuesday), Washington (Feb. 15) and Anaheim (Feb. 17) to complete this home stand.
That means four of the five games will be against teams currently out of the playoff picture. Given the fact the Wild is 11-15-1 away from St. Paul, this would appear to be a key stretch for Boudreau’s bunch.
I’d like to say Thursday’s failure was unexpected, but this team has fallen flat on its face so many times in recent years that nothing surprises.
“It was abysmal,” Boudreau said of the Wild’s play in their own end. “We practice d-zone coverage every day but it’s mental. They know how to play because we’ve seen them play incredibly good against the best teams in the league and to come out and some of our guys, minus-3, minus-2, our best players, just not thinking tonight.”
Boudreau didn’t name names but he didn’t have to. Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund were both minus-3, while the defensive pairing of Matt Dumba and Gustav Olofsson were both minus-2. Dumba, who lost his normal defensive partner, Jonas Brodin, to a broken hand, and should be put with Ryan Suter, also made an incredibly risky pass in his own zone in the second period but was bailed out by goalie Devan Dubnyk.
There were plenty of others at fault as well for Thursday’s debacle.
A year ago, Boudreau led the Wild to a franchise-record 106 points and second-place finish in the Central Division. Disappointment did not come until the Wild were bounced in five games by the St. Louis Blues in the opening round.
There is little doubt the Wild will rebound with a victory on Saturday night over the last-place Blackhawks. That’s how this team works. They are going nowhere but they are doing it on their terms and their terms mean driving everyone around them crazy by being as inconsistent as possible.
That victory the Wild is almost sure to get on Saturday won’t matter either because it soon will be followed with a lackadaisical and apathetic performance.
New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton announced Thursday that despite the fact his team is only three points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, he is pulling the plug on the season. Gorton has seen enough from his inconsistent bunch.
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t have the same luxury. He’s in the final year of his contract and pulling the plug on the season likely would mean doing the same for his time in Minnesota. Remember, owner Craig Leipold declared before the season that it was Stanley Cup or bust for the Wild.
That seems laughable now.
With the NHL trade deadline approaching on Feb. 26, one can only hope that Fletcher doesn’t deal any future assets or draft picks to try and prop up this collection. They don’t deserve it and ultimately it won’t help.
Boudreau, the guy you feel sorry for in all of this, is left to try to figure out what he’s going to get from night to night without going crazy. “If I was smarter, I’d be able to solve it,” Boudreau said when asked about being stuck on the Wild rollercoaster. “I wish I had the answer to that problem.”
Considering how much these players seem to care, the answer actually is very simple. Someone should pull the plug on this season, deal the future assets for prospects and draft picks and put this team, and its fans, out of their misery.