They texted after the trades, checking in with each other after leaving the Wild, and then they met face to face.
It was a quick chat outside the locker room after a March game. Charlie Coyle explained what it was like to settle in with the Boston Bruins, and Nino Niederreiter shared how much he liked being a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Just to catch up for that little bit was cool,” Coyle said.
Now two months later, the former teammates will have a longer reunion on the ice as the forwards face off in the Eastern Conference finals starting with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Thursday in Boston — a matchup that guarantees a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for someone who started the season with the Wild.
“I’m actually pretty happy to play against him,” Niederreiter said, “and it’s definitely going to be a fun one.”
This is the first time Coyle and Niederreiter have moved on to the conference final in their careers, but they took different paths to reach this stage.
The Wild began to dissolve its long-standing core when Niederreiter was shipped out Jan. 17 for center Victor Rask.
At the time, the Hurricanes were out of a playoff spot but still within contention. And Niederreiter’s addition only bolstered that push.
Carolina climbed into the first wild-card position, a late-season surge that included 14 goals and 30 points from Niederreiter in 36 games. Before the trade, he managed only nine goals and 23 points in 46 games with the Wild.
In the postseason, the 26-year-old has chipped in a goal and three assists, but that lone tally was a meaningful one.
After the Hurricanes eked out a double-overtime Game 7 victory over the reigning champion Washington Capitals in Round 1, Niederreiter buried the winning goal in Game 2 against the New York Islanders to help seal a four-game sweep during the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 10 years — a feel-good run by an unlikely upstart that’s captivated the hockey world.
“We’re staying humble, and we know we gotta play our game,” Niederreiter said. “We’re obviously going to be the underdog again against Boston. We’re going to start in Boston, so it’s definitely going to be a fun opportunity for us. At the end of the day, there’s nothing to lose for us. Nobody expected us to be where we are right now.”
Boston’s advancement is much less surprising.
When the Bruins acquired Coyle Feb. 20 in exchange for winger Ryan Donato and a 2019 fifth-round draft pick that morphed into a fourth-rounder once they won a playoff series, the team was second in the Eastern Conference and in the midst of a point streak that would ultimately stretch to 19 games.
“I knew what I was getting into with this team and how good they were playing and what they could accomplish and what they were striving for,” Coyle said. “So I just wanted to fit into that equation and help out as much as I could.”
During the playoffs is where Coyle has made the most impact.
His five goals are tied for second on the Bruins, and the 27-year-old’s eight points are also among team leaders — this after Coyle contributed only two goals and six points during 21 regular-season games for the Bruins and had 10 and 28, respectively, through 60 games with the Wild.
Three of his goals came in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs where the Bruins prevailed in seven games, but Coyle’s most dynamic showing of the playoffs so far came in Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Not only did Coyle even the score at 2 late in the third period, but the East Weymouth, Mass., native delivered the overtime winner on home ice. The Bruins went on to clinch the series in six.
“Having my family there to see it live and see them after every home game is really cool,” Coyle said. “That makes it special.”
Both have heard from former Wild teammates as their teams have progressed through the playoffs, a testament to the bond each built after debuting with Minnesota in 2013.
And while they enjoyed their stints with the Wild, getting traded has given Coyle and Niederreiter an opportunity neither had before: being four wins away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
“There’s nothing better right now than what we’re doing,” Coyle said. “It’s the best time of the year and to still be in the playoffs at this point, it’s the farthest I’ve been. So I want to keep pushing that limit and see where we can get to.”