ST. PAUL – Two nights after an embarrassing showing in which the Wild were beaten up in every way by the Winnipeg Jets, Bruce Boudreau’s team did exactly what you knew they would.
They returned home intent on pushing back and handed the Jets a 6-2 beat down at Xcel Energy Center to close the gap to 2-1 in their first-round playoff series and with Game 4 set for Tuesday night in St. Paul.
If the Wild are one thing it’s predictable and anything less than a spirited, hair-on-fire effort from Minnesota would have been shocking.
“It was needed and hoped (for),” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who has spent this season attempting to push the correct buttons to get the most out of this collection. “That’s a really good team over there. I still think we can play better. We built today. There were building blocks of getting better. But there were times when I thought the whole team concept of the game, we didn’t play as well as we could.”
But the Wild played well enough to win, just as they have so often in Game 3 of most playoff series since returning to the postseason in 2013 after a four-year drought.
Since that time, the Wild have gone 1-15 in Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but rebounded to go 6-2 in Game 3s. The formula of falling behind and then scrambling to play catch-up is a dangerous way to live and often an unsuccessful one. Minnesota is 2-5 in playoff series since 2013 and hasn’t won one since beating St. Louis in the first round in 2015.
There were some attempting to spread the narrative that the Wild’s decision to play tough in the final seconds on Friday after putting forth a pathetic effort for most of the final two periods against the Jets played a role in Sundays’ success.
I grew up watching the North Stars and loved the 1980s message-sending rough stuff as much as the next person, but to say the Wild set any type of tone near the end of Friday’s game is ridiculous.
The Wild knew it had embarrassed itself at nearly every turn in Game 2 – especially after taking a third-period lead and giving themselves a chance in Game 1 – and playing in front of a home crowd that had braved a winter storm to reach the X on Sunday pulling another no-show wasn’t an option.
Plus, that isn’t the Wild Way. This isn’t a bad or inept team but one that seems to embrace making its life as difficult as possible. It’s what makes the Wild so maddening, yet impossible to ignore.
They always hook you back in, even though the end result is usually disappointment.
The Jets did take the early lead on Sunday as Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk gave up one of his weird-angle goals to the Jets’ Blake Wheeler, but the Wild appeared undeterred.
Mikael Granlund answered Wheeler’s power-play goal with one of his own at 9 minutes, 47 seconds. Zach Parise followed with another power-play goal at 17:50 of the first for his third of the series and second that meant anything. Defenseman Matt Dumba, who is playing huge minutes in this series and deserves far more credit than he is getting, gave the Wild a 3-1 lead at 3:32 of the second.
The Jets pulled within a goal when Tyler Myers beat Dubnyk with a slap shot just over three minutes after Dumba’s goal, but the Wild then took control with three goals (Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno) within a span of three-plus minutes. That got Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck pulled after two periods and put the Wild right back in the series.
Boudreau had treated his players, at least publicly, with kid-gloves after Friday’s loss likely because he knew taking out his frustration on this group would be counterproductive.
“We went over the video and stuff and it was basically just not much needs to be said,” about Game 2, Dumba said. “We know what’s on the line here. We know what situation we could put ourselves in and set up for a Game 4. We know what situation we could fall into. It was really just a choice of which one we wanted and you could see our of character tonight. We definitely wanted this one.”
That sounds good but the Wild’s play Sunday serves as a further indictment of the absolutely terrible performance we saw Friday. The Jets might be the better team, but the Wild lost the second game because they treated a playoff game as if it was the end of a five-game road trip in November.
So which Wild club shows up Tuesday? Odds are it will be the good one, considering the Wild had an NHL-low six defeats in regulation at home this season. As for their playoff past, the Wild are 3-4 in Game 4s since 2013.
Go back to Winnipeg down 3-1 and your season is pretty much finished. Go back tied at 2-2, and actually decide you have the intestinal fortitude to play tough on the road against the Jets and now you have given yourself a chance to advance.
“You go from just doom and gloom to a little life now,” Parise said. “There wasn’t a lot of great things that came out of our games in Winnipeg, but now we expect them to be better for Game 4 and we’re going have to be a lot better, too.”
Anyone who follows the Wild would be justified in saying they won’t believe that will happen until they see it.