Minnesotans have been polite to Bruce Boudreau. He came to town after being fired for being upset in the playoffs and for his history of being upset in the playoffs. He said anything can happen in Game 7 and we nodded. You betcha. That makes sense.
Now that the playoffs are starting and the Wild has closed its best-ever regular season it’s time to stop nodding and start applying logic. Boudreau should be judged on his playoff record here and his playoff record during his career.
The notion that a bad bounce or one bad goalie performance can beat you in a Game 7 is true but limited. Boudreau usually has had the superior team and home-ice advantage when he has lost a Game 7. He is 1-7 in Game 7s. He is 1-7 in Game 7s at home.
Bad luck? Maybe within each Game 7 loss that is true. The rest of the story: Boudreau had the superior team and that team did not win the series in four, five or six games, and did not dominate play enough in Game 7 to avoid getting beaten by a bad bounce or goaltender.
It’s one thing to excuse the postseason performances of a baseball team. Playing 162 games and then losing in a short series to a hot team or a dominant pitcher is not necessarily an indictment.
Hockey is different. The NHL regular season is nothing more than a playoff seeding exercise and a ticket-selling gambit. That’s why Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews called the playoffs “the real season.”
“It’s always about playoff success,” Wild star Zach Parise said Tuesday. “You can go 82-0, and if you lose in the first round, it doesn’t really matter. You need playoff success to feel good. You always do. It’s important.”
Parise was responding to a generic question, not referring to Boudreau. And no one in that locker room should have anything negative to say about Boudreau. In his first season on the job, Boudreau led the Wild to a team record for points.
The Wild deserves credit for hiring the best coach on the market, and the coach deserves credit for the work he did during his first regular season.
But the first-round matchup with the St. Louis Blues is ominous. Blues coach Mike Yeo is highly motivated, for some reason. The Blues have size and talent and are playing better over the past month or two than the Wild. And all of the work the Wild put in to earn a Game 7 at home could lead merely to Boudreau and his team feeling heightened pressure if the series should go that far.
The Wild has proved it is the superior team and yet every Wild fan I know is feeling more paranoia than joy as the series begins.
In Boudreau’s last news conference before the season began he brought up his Game 7 record. It was charming and savvy. He defused the line of questioning.
He also demonstrated that the record deeply bothers him. And it should.
This week, Boudreau told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo this: “Making the playoffs is great. You want to win it. I want to win a Cup. The only thing I don’t like is the perception of losing Game 7s.”
It’s not a perception. It’s a fact. Boudreau has coached excellent teams and great players and failed when it matters most.
He’ll try to alter that story line by winning with the Wild. It’s a strange match, a coach desperate for playoff success trying to fix a franchise desperate for playoff success, but the Wild should win this series. Minnesota should have the edge in goal and behind the bench.
And while the word “urgency” will be overused for the next few months in hockey arenas around North America, there is urgency for the Wild, starting Wednesday. Winning in five or six games might be the best way to deal with a lingering Game 7 problem.