Thomas U. Tuttle

Wild ghosts of days gone by…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

When I was a young guy, there was a youth hockey team called the Minor Hawks that played out of Chicago and traveled around playing the best teams that could be found. Unlike the famous NHL Blackhawks, indoor ice time was at a premium and outdoor rink hockey was at the whim of the weather spirits. Still, this early traveling all-star team was about as good a squad as any in the Midwest.

Or should I say “lower” Midwest. Because of a fair amount of local-area success, the coaches decided to play some more serious competition late in a 1970’s-era season, so up we went to Madison, Wisconsin, where the competition ramped up and the losses, while consecutive, were fairly competitive.

Then it was on to tournaments in the Twin Cities and Duluth, and soon a whole new understanding of the  game of hockey was brought to our attention – along with fast skating, solid checking, tape-to-tape passing, wicked wrist-shots, solid slap-shots and serious goaltending. There was a group realization by the Chicago kids that not only were we overmatched and outscored – we really really didn’t belong in the same building with the guys from Minnesota. They might have been 13 and 14 years old, but the dudes from the State of Hockey schooled us big-time and the numbers on the scoreboard reflected that.

I’m not sure this reminiscence has much to do with the Minnesota Wild’s demise in the first round of the NHL playoffs, although the Wild ended up being schooled in five games by the St. Louis Blues and coach Mike Yeo. Yes, goalie Jake Allen was stellar in the nets – particularly in the first game when he stood on his head in making 51 saves on 52 shots – and the Blues were timely on offense, but it seemed like Mike Yeo knew what needed to be done for victory and executed his plan perfectly.

While Allen certainly deserves all the credit for the victory in game one, Yeo ramped up his defense for the rest of the series, using his knowledge of Minnesota and its players to turn up the heat on the Wild scorers. The Blues played a super-physical brand of hockey and made the Wild work hard to get any scoring opportunities, using guys with names like Bortuzzo and Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo and Parayko to clog up the middle and make sure the W’s offensive threats knew what they were up against.

And actually, this reminded me of our best guys on the Minor Hawks, Ray and Eddie and Big Al, being shut-down in the Twin Cities and Duluth on our trip up north. Every time our top players started to move up the ice, looking for some space to execute, here would come two or three big kids ready to bust things up. In our case, we had never seen pressure like that, and it didn’t let up. Just scoring a goal was a cause for major celebration (I think we scored six during our week in Minnesota).

The Wild have been in tight checking games, and they are not young kids. But take a look at the production of Minnesota’s top offensive threats in the playoffs versus the regular season. Leading scorer Mikael Granlund was almost invisible, with no goals in the playoffs. Nino Niederreiter and Zack Parise were largely neutralized, as was the power play – and the normally strong blue line contribution was minimal. Hey, Minnesota scored just five goals in the first four games of the series – a mere 1.25 goals a game. When they finally busted loose for three goals at home in game five, it fell short again in a 4-3 overtime loss.

Bruce Boudreau’s history of getting knocked off in the playoffs continues (this was his ninth playoff exit, four with the Washington, four with Anaheim, and now the Wild) and the pressure on the coming season will be intense. Part of his problem is the perception that he’s a great coach (leading the Mighty Ducks to first place each year of his tenure; the Wild to their best record ever) who simply can’t win in the playoffs – a leader who is unable to  “win the Big One,” if you will.

You have to know this dilemma will carry over to next year and, unfortunately, lead to the regular season being a kind of tune-up for the “real” season: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It really is a different deal in post-season hockey, with the top-seeded Blackhawks vanishing in four straight against the Nashville Predators and the number two Wild departing to the Blues – sayonara to Montreal as well.

Us old Minor Hawks kids know the feeling of getting beat, if not by close scores. Ray and Eddie, our leaders and most talented players, never quit (unlike accusations that Parise and Ryan Suter cost Mike Yeo the locker room prior to his exit from Minnesota) and I don’t believe the Wild gave anything less than their best. But it simply wasn’t enough against a tough defensive team that knew how to play the Wild and executed a solid game plan. And it is hard to argue that Yeo wasn’t the better coach in the series.

Mike Yeo was genuinely classy in victory, as many of us in the media knew he would be. Minor Hawks coach Atkinson was classy, too, when we succumbed to defeat by big numbers. We never won the big one (or any big game), but we learned a great deal and still had fun.

Unfortunately for coach Boudreau, he needs to win a big one badly, and that rough road is going through Chicago or St. Louis or somebody tough – that just how NHL hockey goes in the springtime. Fun only accompanies winning.

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Scott Taylor

Wild Set to Open Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder and Jeff Miller

New York Rangers professional scout Tom Thompson has been around the game of hockey for more than 40 years. By his own admission, he’s probably seen it all.

However, if there is one thing that still stokes his fire every season, it’s the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) ,in NHL action at the MTS Centre,April 3 , 2014. JEFF MILLER PHOTO

“There is absolutely no doubt that the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is always the best,” said Thompson. “You have teams that finished high in the standings expecting to win against teams that were lucky to make the playoffs and now they have nothing to lose. The first round is always the toughest, the fastest, the closest and the most exciting. The first round is where the upsets happen. This is always hockey at its very best.”

And when we get started on Wednesday night, the 2017 Stanley Cup tournament should not disappoint. Especially here in Minnesota.

Devan Dubnyk (G) will be a key to the Wild’s playoff fortunes

The Wild have one of the best teams in the post-season tournament – despite that March swoon – and if they get the goaltending they need from Devan Dubnyk, should find themselves through to the second round and a date with their long-time nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks.

This should be a terrific two weeks. The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins are back. The three-time Stanley Cup-winning Jonathan Toews version of the Chicago Blackhawks are favored in the West. The Alexander Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals just might be ready to snare their first Cup. While the aging San Jose Sharks will take a solid veteran lineup into the biggest tournament of the year against the upstart – and exciting – Edmonton Oilers.

The 2017 Stanley Cup Tournament begins on Wednesday, April 15 with 16 teams. In two months, only one will be standing.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty fired up….

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Scott Taylor

The Wild: Down the stretch

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By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder

GAMEDAY GOLD

Dubnyk Stumbles at Bad Time

WINNIPEG, Man. – Devan Dubnyk needs a rest.

After watching the Minnesota Wild goaltender flail around in a 5-4 loss to the non-post-season Winnipeg Jets on Sunday afternoon, it has become painfully obvious that the man who got the Minnesota Wild to where they are today, needs to sit and just watch his team for a few games.

The slumping Minnesota Wild have now lost five straight and have won just two of 10 in March.

When we last visited the Wild, Dubnyk was unbeatable. He was the odds-on pick to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding goaltender and his numbers were off the hook. In fact, during his first 27 starts, a run that took him to Dec. 31, Dubnyk was an eye-popping 18-6-3. He was first in the NHL with a 1.58 goals-against average and also first in the league with a .947 save percentage.

It certainly hasn’t been as good since then, and it’s been downright awful in the month of March – a time when the Wild needed their No. 1 goaltender to be at his best in order to catch the Chicago Blackhawks in the race for first in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.

In 29 starts since the end of December, Dubnyk is 18-12 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. That’s not very good. In fact, during that span, the NHL’s statistical gurus place Dubnyk 22nd in goals-against average and 26th in save percentage (among those goalies who have played at least 16 games in that period of time). Worse yet, as he did on Sunday, Dubnyk has allowed four or more goals in a game nine times.

This month he is 2-7 in 10 games with a 2.92 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. That’s horrible. He has gone seven starts without a victory and has been looking for his career-high 37th win for the last five games.

Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin and Devyn Dubnyk (G) defend the Minnesota Wild Net

The Wild’s Devan Dubnyk is trying to see his way through…

Now, to be fair, Dubnyk is still tied for second in the NHL with 36 wins, second with a .927 save percentage and fourth with a 2.18 goals against average (among goaltenders with at least 30 games played), but his numbers have dropped dramatically since Dec. 29.

There have been some suggestions that he needs more practice time or that he’s developed some bad habits and the coaches need to work on getting Dubnyk back to the pre-New Year’s Dubnyk.

However, after watching him on Sunday, the guy looks worn out and unable to focus. Especially early in the game. The Jets led 3-0 after the first period, even though the Wild had outshot them 14-7. Overall, the Wild outshot the Jets 48-21 and yet they lost 5-4. Dubnyk never seemed comfortable at any stage of this one and maybe, just maybe he should take his family to Disney World for a week. He’s not going to get any better – his confidence certainly isn’t going to get any better – by letting in five or six more against San Jose on Tuesday night.

It’s a coach’s job to make sure every team member feels horribly about a loss like the one the Wild suffered on Sunday. He can’t just leave it at the foot of goaltender. But let’s not sugarcoat this thing. With decent goaltending, the Wild don’t lose in Winnipeg and don’t go 2-8 this month.

As for head coach Bruce Boudreau, he’s as frustrated as the team and the fans – fans who are having trouble imagining a club that was so good for so long suddenly hitting the skids right before the post-season.

“Hey, listen, we stunk in the first,” Boudreau said during a postgame scrum in the bowels of MTS Centre that barely lasted 30 seconds. “We’d better come back in the second. Holy crap, it’s not resiliency. You’re making us sound like we’re good. That’s … I’m done.”

If he can’t get his goaltender back on track, his entire team might be.

 

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Wild have shot at Stanley Cup

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By Larry Fitzgerald
March1, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

When I walk into Xcel Center and sometimes after finishing a sports update, I get calls, questions, emails and text messages asking why I talk about hockey. Perception is not reality. Many assume that Black people don’t like hockey or don’t know the game. Wrong.

I grew up in Chicago where the Blackhawks were the dominant sports team in a great sports town. They played at the old Chicago Stadium on the Westside and had Hall of Fame stars like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull and Glen Hall. I saw the Blackhawks lose the Stanley Cup game seven in 1970 to Montreal 3-2. It broke my young heart, but I was hooked on hockey.

Here we come down the stretch the last two months of the regular season of the greatest season ever for the Minnesota Wild. Not only are they good, they are real good, best in the Western Conference and leaders of the Central with 84 points. Chicago is number two with 83 points.

The Wild have two games in hand. Six Wild players this season have scored 40 points or more. This is an explosive team that attacks. Minnesota fans have been having a blast this season.

Unlike the Vikings who started fast with 5-0 and got everyone in the state excited, then fell on their face not even making the playoffs, the Wild have been consistent. They play hard every night for first-year Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. He was fired by Anaheim last year after several really good seasons. General Manager Chuck Fletcher has built a strong, confident, exciting team. They have been in the playoffs five years in a row.

(Courtesy of Larry-Fitzgerald.com)
Wild driving for the playoffs

Minnesota is 39-14-6, the second-best record in the NHL. Washington has the league’s best record, 41-13-6 for 89 points. It’s no secret the Wild are tied with Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, with 84 points and are one of the top teams. Washington, for example, is number one in the league with the most wins (41), fewest losses (13), and best point differential in the league, +70.

The Wild are tied for third in wins with 39 (after Chicago and Columbus), second with fewest losses (14) in the league, and second in point differential, +60. To win the Stanley Cup you have to get hot at the right time in the playoffs.

It’s not rocket science. It’s the same thing in any sport — whoever plays the best under pressure usually wins. The Wild are tough at the blue line. Their defense men have been solid all year, led by All-Star Ryan Suter, who has a great plus/minus of 35.

Devan Dubnyk is an All-Star goalie. They traded for him two years ago with Phoenix, and now he’s the best in the league. He has the best save percentage average (.943) and goal against average in the NHL at 1.97. You have to be able to stop people, and the Wild have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, 138.

Where there’s a will there’s a way. This team is among the top scoring teams. They are dominant at home (21-8-7) and outstanding on the road (18-6-5). They can win anywhere; they have won at Pittsburgh and Chicago this season.

Their fans have to be super excited about the big trade acquiring two veteran forwards, six-foot-six Martin Hanzal (16-10-26 points) and 28-year-old Ryan White from Phoenix for 2017 first-round pick and a second pick and a conditional pick.

The Wild average nearly 19,000 fans per game at Xcel Center. This is the deepest team they have ever had, and I have seen all their teams. This is the fifth-straight season they will clinch a playoff spot. Picking up two solid veteran forwards for the stretch drive tells fans this team is serious about winning the Stanley Cup.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Scott Taylor

The Wild: Your Legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders

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By Scott Taylor
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

There is little doubt that the Minnesota Wild possesses the best team in the West. Certainly there are teams in the East that will dispute the Wild’s legitimate claim to being the best team in the NHL (the Washington Capitals for example), but it’s pretty hard to argue that Minnesota is the best club of the 14 in the Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones.

After all, this is a team that is 39-13-6 (7-2-1 in its last 10) and is on a two-game winning streak heading into a game with its arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Tuesday night.

This should be an exciting matchup on Tuesday. The Hawks are 36-18-5 and are not only second to Minnesota in the Central Division, but tied for second in the West with San Jose, a great team with a nasty habit of folding up like the back seats of a Honda Minivan come playoff time.

The only team in the NHL with a better record than the Wild, Barry Trotz’s Capitals, are 39-12-7 (85 points), but are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Rangers. The Wild are plus-62 this season, the Caps are plus-69. Like Minnesota, the Capitals are 7-2-1 in their last 10.

So, ladies and gentlemen, your Stanley Cup finalists: Minnesota Wild vs. Washington Capitals. Think I’m crazy? Well, here’s why I’m making that call in February:

  1. Great goaltending: The two men from Saskatchewan, Braden Holtby of the Caps and Devan Dubnyk of the Wild have been terrific all season. In 45 games, Dubnyk leads the NHL with a save percentage of .934. Dubnyk’s league-leading goals against average in 1.97. Holtby is second at 2.01. These teams have the best goaltenders and therefore are the two best teams in the NHL. And remember, the Conn Smythe Trophy for NHL playoff MVP has been handed out since 1965 and goaltenders have won the award 16 times.
  2. Leaders: The Caps are led by veteran forward and captain Alex Ovechkin, who has become one of the game’s best 200-foot players. He didn’t always play that way, but he does now. The Wild are led by captain Mikko Koivu and 30-minute a game defenseman Ryan Suter. Koivu is playing the best hockey of his career right now. It seems that Suter is never off the ice. Both teams have the leadership required to go a long way in the post-season.
  3. Great coaching: Bruce Boudreau of the Wild is in his first year with Minnesota and it’s obvious how much better this team has been in 2016-17. It has certainly been more consistent and more successful than in years past. Washington’s Barry Trotz was NHL coach of the year last year and he’s picked up right where he left off. However, as good as they are at their jobs, neither coach has won a Stanley Cup. This will be another emotional spring for both of them.
  4. A great No. 1 line: The Wild currently have the line of Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker firing on all cylinders. On Saturday night, during a 5-2 win against Nashville, that line scored four goals, had seven points and finished as a combined plus-nine. They’ve been together for three months and in 39 games have 43 goals, 110 points and are a combined plus-84. The Wild are 29-6-4 since Boudreau put  the line together (credit: NHL Statistics). Meanwhile, the Caps top line is Ovechkin on the left side with Nicklas Backstrom in the middle and Warroad’s T.J. Oshie on the right side. The three top-line stars are among the Caps Top 4 scorers. Backstrom has 17 goals and 61 points, Ovechkin has 27 goals and 52 points and Oshie has 23 goals and 41 points. Oshie is plus-24, Ovechkin is plus-six and Backstrom is plus-15. They have combined for 22 power play goals and 13 game winners (credit: NHL Statistics).
  5. Solid special teams: The Caps power play is kicking along at a 21.8 per cent clip (fifth in the NHL) and its penalty kill is at 84.3 per cent (sixth). The Wild has a 21.9 per cent power play (fourth) and an 82.9 per cent penalty killing unit (10th). In terms of overall NHL rankings. The Caps are No. 3 in the NHL while the Wild are No. 5. Both teams are among the league’s best.

Both teams have sound second and third lines, good energy lines and responsible defensive units. They have both veteran presence and young legs. But most importantly, they are the best teams in the NHL in the combination that results from the five most important categories.

Frankly, as long as the goaltending (on either one of these teams) does not falter in the post-season, it will be Washington and Minnesota in the Stanley Cup final.

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Scott Taylor

Wild Can Win the Cup

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By Scott Taylor
GAMEDAY GOLD

Photos by James Carey Lauder

 

It has become more than a pipe dream. With Christmas approaching, the Minnesota Wild are showing the National Hockey League that they have sufficient quality personnel to win the Stanley Cup.

OK, will they win the Cup? Well, that’s up to them and some very good opponents. But can they? Oh, there is no doubt about it.

Friday night, the Wild beat an improving and quite capable Edmonton Oilers team 3-2 in a shootout. Veteran Eric Staal, who was acquired in the off-season and has been as good as Wild fans could have hoped, scored the winning goal on Friday as the Wild improved to 5-1-2 in their last eight.

What’s truly amazing is that 18 of the Wild’s 26 games this season have been one-goal affairs — including the last six. Three of those went to a shootout, and one was decided in overtime.

And the Wild have proven that they can win close games. In fact, the Wild are now 14-8-4 on the season and have won three straight games. They are 5-2-3 in their last 10 and have moved into third place in the Central Division, just four points out of second with two games in hand on 16-8-4 St. Louis.

Winnipeg's Alexander Burmistrov and Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon battle for possession...

Corner Battle!

The Wild have now finished the first period – that mythical time in every NHL season in which they’ve completed the first one-third of the 82-game grind. And after 26 games, the Wild appear to have all the tools required to make this a very, very long season.

And, of course, the most important thing they have going is a goaltender.

While most NHL experts wouldn’t dare compare Devan Dubnyk to Carey Price, Pekka Rinne or Henrik Lundqvist, they probably should. On Friday night, Dubnyk made 25 saves to get the win (he’s now beaten the Oilers, his old team, eight of the 10 times he’s faced them since he left Edmonton in 2013), but what’s more impressive is that he entered the game with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average. That, hockey enthusiasts, is as good as it gets.

“The fun part about it is that it doesn’t feel like anything crazy; it doesn’t feel like I’m hanging on for dear life until something collapses,” Dubnyk said, when he was asked what it felt like to lead the legendary Carey Price in save percentage.

“The most important thing is that it just feels like we’re playing well together as a team. I’ve got a great feeling standing back there. They’re letting me make great reads and be patient. I’m just really comfortable in net.”

Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk fends off a rolling puck in Winnipeg

Devan Dubnyk (40) fends off a rolling puck in Winnipeg

Dubnyk, of course, is one of hockey’s greatest reclamation projects. This is a guy who was in the minors in 2014 and is now one of the Top 5 goalies in the world. Since coming to Minnesota in 2015 at a desperate time for both the team and the player, he’s hardly been perfect, but he’s been pretty damn good. He’s in the second full year of a six-year, $26 million deal with the Wild, and this year, he’s been one of the best players — not just best goalies, but best players — in the NHL.

“Minnie is such a great place to raise a family, we enjoy it so much there,” Dubnyk said. “My wife and I have two young boys – three and one – and I mean, life is great in Minnesota. Gosh, it was so close to being a whole lot different.”

When you throw in the fact that Staal and Charlie Coyle lead the team in scoring with 18 points, Nino Neiderreiter, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Suter are next with 16, Jason Zucker has 15 and captain Mikko Koivu has 14, the Wild have demonstrated that they have a balanced attack that no longer has to rely on the team’s heart-and-soul, the oft-injured veteran star Zach Parise.

And in the spring, with a healthy Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matthew Dumba, Christian Folin and Marco Scandella on the back end, the Wild should have the young legs and experienced heart that’s required to go deep into the playoffs.

Oh yeah, and make no mistake, the addition of head coach Bruce Boudreau has made the Wild a sound, responsible unit that has, somehow, developed the confidence in itself that’s always been a key to the success of great teams.

Now, let’s be frank. Hockey old-timers agree that the best NHL teams don’t even start playing for keeps until January and, sure, the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators will all have a say in the Cup run that starts in five months. Still, the Minnesota Wild are as good as any of those teams and if they start gearing up in January, the rest of the league might want to look out.

The Wild certainly have a chance to take a Cup run. Especially if Devan Dubnyk plays as well to the finish as he’s playing now.

 

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Why the St. Louis Blues will Win the Stanley Cup

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By Scott Taylor

 

Bruce Boudreau spoke no lie.

 

When Boudreau addressed the media at his recent news conference St. Paul, one the day he was officially introduced as the new head coach of the Minnesota Wild, he said one thing that to many hockey observers might have been misconstrued as patronizing or, if nothing else, just giving the local press exactly what they wanted to hear.

 

As he listed off the reasons he took the job in St. Paul, Boudreau said, “I love competition and the Wild are in the Central Division, the toughest division in the NHL.”

 

Certainly, hockey fans in the East probably disagreed, but the fact is, there is no denying it. Everything is cyclical and in a couple of years, the Metropolitan or Atlantic Divisions might be tougher, but right now, the Central Division – from top to bottom – is the best division in the NHL.

 

The defending Stanley Cup champions are from the Central. The Dallas Stars won the division with 1009 points and five of the eight teams in the Western Conference playoffs came from the Central. The Top 7 teams in the Central were better than all but the Top 3 teams in the Pacific.

 

So it just goes to reason that the St. Louis Blues, the remaining team from the Central Division will not only win the West, but win the Stanley Cup.

 

In Game 1 of the Western final against a very good team from San Jose (a team that lost twice to the Central Division’s seventh-place Winnipeg Jets in three meetings during the regular season), the Blues played an almost perfect defensive game and beat San Jose 2-1. However, if the Sharks want to get into fire wagon hockey any time soon, the Blues would certainly be up for that. This was, after all, a Blues team that just won 4-3, 6-1, 4-1 and 6-1 in a terrific seven-game series against the Central Division champion Stars.

 

Fact is, Ken Hitchcock’s Blues can play any way you want. They play an excellent defensive style (Hitchcock wouldn’t have it any other way) but with players such as Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals), Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen, Davis Backes, Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer, they can score if they need to.

 

Most importantly, they have a hot goaltender. Brian Elliott has a 2.20 goals against average and a .932 save percentage is 15 playoff games this spring. When you have a hot goaltender, you always have a chance to win.

 

With the addition of Statsny and Jori Lehtera, the Blues are deeper than they’ve been in years. And they have an elite coach. Hitchcock’s defensive systems may drive fans and skilled players crazy, but he’s won more than 700 games and he’s due in the playoffs.

 

“Every time you’re in the playoffs, you’re giving yourself a chance, but I think the thing I’m proudest of is we’re consistent,” Hitchcock said in early March. “We don’t cheat ourselves. We have a great work ethic between coaching staff, players, trainers, everything. We have a great work ethic here. I think that permeates through the organization.

 

“And we have two good goaltenders and that can make all the difference in the playoffs. If Brian (Elliott) has a tough night, we just go play Jake (Allan). It’s a pretty good situation for us. We’ve got two good goalies, two guys you count on. They have their own internal competition, which is fun. That’s the competitive cauldron that they’re involved in.”

 

Defensemen Zybnek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo were acquired prior to the NHL Trade Deadline to add depth and physicality to a defense led by playmakers Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, suddenly high scoring Colton Parayko and steady Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarson. This team has size and depth and you can’t size, not depth.

 

The St. Louis Blues are the best team remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Tampa has overcome injuries, Pittsburgh’s skill has shone through and San Jose is experienced and gritty. However, the Blues are the best team standing.
And they only have to win seven more games.

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Boudreau the Perfect Fit for Wild

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By Scott Taylor

 

Coaches don’t win or lose hockey games. Players do.

 

Having said that, if you have good players and they don’t listen to what the coach is trying to accomplish, your team won’t win many.

 

Seems that’s what happened to Mike Yeo in Minnesota. He was talking but players had stopped listening a long time ago.

 

So Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher fired Yeo and brought in the popular Mike Torchetti and the high-paid help in Minnesota listened — for a while. They eventually backed into the playoffs because the Colorado Avalanche collapsed like Ted Cruz and then whimpered out of the post season like Jeb Bush.

 

So now, four months after Yeo got the heave-ho, Fletcher has hired a proven winner – at $3 million per year for four years. Bruce Boudreau, the old St. Paul Saints winger, was considered the best coach available. His numbers would suggest it, anyway. In nine seasons as a head coach, Boudreau’s teams had eight division titles. He is, evidently, the answer, although to be fair, he was just fired by the Ducks after losing four straight Game 7s in Anaheim.

 

Obviously, the Wild didn’t want to go young. After having a young guy like Yeo behind the bench, Fletcher was going to hire an older, more experienced coach with a winning track record. Suppose, he could have hired Randy Carlyle or Bob Hartley or Marc Crawford. But why?

 

Boudreau, 61, once wrote a book called Gabby: Confessions of a Hockey Lifer. In it, he talks about his days with the Saints, how he taught Paul Newman to take a slapshot for the movie Slapshot, how he narrowly missed one of those doomed 9/11 flights at Logan in Boston and how he spent a night in jail for streaking.

 

He’s a guy. He’s a man’s man. If the hot shots on the Wild won’t listen to him, they won’t listen to anybody. Fact is, if they won’t listen to Boudreau then the old adage, “You can’t fire all the players,” will be meaningless. If the Wild don’t do what Boudreau wants them to do, they should all be moved. The whole stinking lot of them.

 

This is a rather odd hire for Fletcher. His first two coaches were a couple of young guys – Todd Richards and Yeo. Neither had as much impact on the team as Fletcher had hoped. After spending a guaranteed $12 million on Boudreau, it’s obvious that he’s going to have the right to do what he wants to do with the room and if that means telling Fletcher to move people that aren’t doing what they’re told, he’ll be given that luxury.

 

Boudreau is a proven winner. He’s being paid the way a proven winner should be paid. And as nice a guy as he is – he really is a great guy who loves to talk to the media – he won’t put up with lollygaggers. Play hard, play his way, or hit the road. That will be the new philosophy in St. Paul.

 

Of course, the fans are going to love him. Anaheim played sound defensive hockey the last few seasons, but offense was never sacrificed for defense. Boudreau was a goal scorer himself. He’s never smothered his talent, just as long as they backchecked and played responsibly. He wants his players to play a 200-foot game but he doesn’t want his scorers NOT to score. He’s not going to ask Nino Neiderreiter or Mikko Koivu or Zach Parise to become your average third-line checker and that seemed to be Yeo’s M.O.

 

He should also fix the room. Under Bruce Boudreau, egos will be checked at the door. If they aren’t, there will be moves. If the highly-paid Wild don’t want to play along with the new coach, the new coach will not hesitate to make shocking changes. Fact is, in Anaheim, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaff loved Boudreau. The stars got the ice time as long as they played like stars. The big shots in Minnesota will be treated like big shots until such time as they decide they don’t want to Boudreau wants them to do and then they’ll be out of his hair.

 

Bruce Boudreau should give hockey fans in Minnesota a reason to be optimistic. A big improvement might not happen overnight, but it will happen.
Then again, if it doesn’t happen, Chuck Fletcher won’t be around to hire the next coach.

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