New Pressure on Wild in Playoffs
The Wild enter Wednesday night’s opening playoff series against the Blues facing expectations that are a franchise first. Coach Bruce Boudreau and his players produced the best regular season results in wins and points since Minnesota became a member of the NHL in 2000-2001. The results also created anticipation the Wild will make a deep playoff run.
“Expectations from fans to get past the first round and into the second are huge,” a pro hockey authority told Sports Headliners. “They (the Wild) are not used to the expectations that you’re really good and should advance to the conference finals.”
How the Wild reacts to the pressure of the playoffs beginning tomorrow night in St. Paul will likely be the biggest sports story in the state during the spring. The source quoted above asked that his name not be used, but he had a lot to say about the Wild and Blues including predictions regarding both tomorrow night’s game and the series winner.
He looks for the underdog Blues to be aggressive early in Wednesday evening’s game. “I think they will try to score early on (goalie Devan) Dubnyk and rattle his confidence. The Wild don’t (always) play well when other teams play them physical.”
The Blues finished third in the Central Division, while the Wild placed second to the Blackhawks. Odds-makers see the Wild, who had the second best record in the Western Conference, as a likely Stanley Cup Finals team but the Blues are a long-shot. Scoring early tonight figures to give St. Louis a lift to its hopes of winning one of the first two games in the series. Game 2 is in St. Paul Friday night before the games 3 and 4 in the best of seven series switch to St. Louis.
Even casual Wild and Blues fans will be watching Dubnyk closely. The Wild’s 30-year-old goalie was sensational much of the season but faltered toward the finish. “People in the industry think he was overused,” the source said. “Too many minutes and too many games. Is he fresh for the playoffs? That remains to be seen?”
Dubnyk played in 65 of 82 regular season games. He was the winning goalie in 40 of the Wild’s 49 victories and only seven goalies had a better goals against average than his 2.25. But only three NHL goalies played more minutes than Dubnyk’s 3,758, according to Hockey-reference.com
Boudreau’s handling of the team was often praised this season. The new coach brought strong leadership and a calming influence to a team that had played mediocre hockey in recent seasons. Several players produced career seasons and at times this winter the Wild looked to some observers like the best team in the NHL.
But Boudreau, fair or not, was labeled in other NHL head coaching stops as being a leader who couldn’t get his teams into deep playoff runs. The worst thing for his image would be an upset series loss to the Blues coached by Mike Yeo who was the Wild’s coach a little over a year ago.
Yeo certainly has incentive to show his former franchise, including general manager Chuck Fletcher, that letting him go was a mistake. The Blues were failing on February 1 when they fired Ken Hitchcock and replaced him with Yeo. He helped lead St. Louis to a 21-8-2 record while earning a reputation for being among the league’s best defensive teams.
But revenge for Yeo against the Wild will be a challenge. Minnesota is more talented and deeper than the Blues, and has home ice advantage. While warning the series could be close, the source quoted here predicts the Wild will win round one in six games.
That should keep the fanbase satisfied—temporarily.
Wild total attendance for regular season home games this season was 781,915, for an average of 19,071. Both figures are franchise records. All 41 home games at Xcel Energy Center were sellouts, with 34 topping 19,000 in attendance. The previous total regular season attendance record was 779,974 in 2014-15, while the previous average attendance record was 19,062 set last season.
The Twins entered today’s game against the Tigers an MLB-best 5-1 but lost 2-1 to Detroit. All the games have been against Central Division teams. A year ago, the Twins who lost their first nine games of the 2016 season, didn’t earn their first win against a division team until April 25.
For now the Twins are going with rookie left-hander Adalberto Mejia as their fifth starter. In his only start so far he pitched 1.2 innings, giving up two earned runs in a earning a loss against the White Sox. Before this season the 23-year-old was named the sixth best prospect in the Twins’ system by Baseball America.
The WNBA’s draft Thursday night consists of three rounds with the first round televised by ESPN2 starting at 6 p.m. Minneapolis time. The second and third rounds will be on ESPNU. The Lynx hold the 12th, 24th and 36th picks respectively in the first, second and third rounds.
Draftsite.com projects the Lynx will select Baylor guard Alexis Prince, Kansas State center Breanna Lewis and Syracuse center Briana Day with their three choices. Forward Nia Coffey, the former Hopkins all-stater who was a dominant player for Northwestern, is projected going to Dallas as the 10th player overall selected in the draft.
The Timberwolves, whose specific draft position in June awaits the NBA Draft Lottery, will have a high pick and they need help at power forward. The 2017 draft could have several power forwards chosen in the first round and the Wolves may end up with perhaps the best of the group, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen.