When Mike Yeo took over Feb. 1, the Blues were down and out fighting for a playoff spot. GM Doug Armstrong, emotional after firing Ken Hitchcock, threw all the pressure back inside the locker room, saying the Blues had a bunch of “independent contractors” in there.
The Blues are now an NHL-best 26-9-2 since, including 19-3-2 in their past 24 games under Yeo.
The former Wild coach got sweet revenge on his former team Saturday when the St. Louis Blues overcame a blown two-goal lead in the third period with a 4-3 overtime win.
In a gesture after the game, GM Chuck Fletcher, who shared some tears and a beer with Yeo after firing him 14 months ago, went to the Blues’ room to congratulate Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson.
“Very nice,” Yeo said. “I've got a lot of time and a lot of respect from everybody here, from top to bottom - players, coaches, management, everything. It's a first-class group and I'm sure that we'll be seeing more of each other down the road."
In a very similar play to the Blues’ Game 1 winner where Vladimir Tarasenko skated off the wall and tried to go backhand to forehand before the puck rolled to Joel Edmundson for the winner, this time Vladimir Sobotka, in his sixth game back from the KHL, skated off the wall and set up Magnus Paajarvi for the dagger.
The goal came not long after Zach Parise overskated a Charlie Coyle rebound in the offensive zone.
It was a fitting end in a series where the Wild had long stretches of better play but couldn’t either execute or beat Jake Allen.
49 wins. 106 points. 266 goals. Career-best seasons up and down the lineup. The best team in the West for three months, at one point going 30-6-3 and winning 12 in a row. All means nothing now that it couldn’t even get out of the first round and went 0-3 at home.
How will this season be remembered?
“Usually you remember what you last saw so, unfortunately, you’re going to remember getting knocked out in five games,” Parise said.
Eight goals in the series for the Wild, four at 5-on-5 for the best 5-on-5 team in the NHL’s regular season.
No goals from its top three goal scorers in the regular season – Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter.
Obviously, immensely disappointing finish, and now it’ll be interesting how management dissects this season because this was the year it was going for a Cup. At least that was the message when Fletcher traded a first, second and fourth and Grayson Downing to Arizona for Marty Hanzal, Ryan White and a fourth.
Right now, barring anything unforeseen, it looks like season-ending availability will occur Tuesday.
Big offseason here as the Wild has to truly determine if this team is built for a Cup. Whether they outplay their opponents or not, players are most of the time not getting it done in the playoffs, as evidenced by the 3-12 record in the past 15 playoff games.
“It's a tough business. It's tough to win,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s why there's only a certain amount of teams that have won in the last 20 years. I'm sure Chuck and management crew will get together and hopefully go through what we had and see what we need and go at it for the future.”
I’ll analyze this a bit in Monday’s postmortem.
Terrible start today’s game for the Wild and it paid for it by falling down 2-zip.
Ryan Suter scored a power-play goal, then the Wild dominated the second and Jake Allen played like Jake Allen, stopping all 13 Wild shots.
Late in the second down 2-1, Parise negated a Wild power play 13 seconds into it. Early in the third down 2-1, Matt Dumba did the same on just a terrible play where he skated past a settled puck from Devan Dubnyk and then responded by tripping Kyle Brodziak.
The second that penalty expired, Paul Stastny made it 3-1.
The Wild thought it made it 3-2 when Hanzal banked a shot in from behind the net. But referee Francis Charron wiped the goal out citing Niederreiter interfered with Allen. Replays showed Jori Lehtera cross-checking Niederreiter into Allen. Boudreau challenged. After a long review, Charron declined to overturn his call.
“They just said it was goalie interference,” Boudreau said. “I'd certainly like an explanation because like [assistant coach] Scott [Stevens] said in the room, ‘You know, we're going to start teaching our defensemen to instead of box out, box in’ because they call that goalie interference all the time and it's not. What are you going to do?”
Still, Steve Kozari called a holding penalty on Jay Bouwmeester seconds later and Mikko Koivu scored a power-play goal to make it 3-2. Later, Bouwmeester took another penalty and 23 seconds after that, Erik Haula sent Jason Zucker in alone and he patiently beat a challenging Allen to send the game into OT.
“They did a good job putting the pressure on,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “We took some penalties that got them momentum. But again, it's not always going to be the way you plan it out but we found a way to win.”
Yup. Despite the better chances all game, the Wild couldn’t get it done.
“I think you could look back at all five games, and it was something like that happening where you think you’re going to pull it out, get the tie, get the win, and it didn’t happen,” Boudreau said.
Boudreau also said, "Well, they weren’t the better team, but they won four games.”
I get what he was saying, but as Suter said after the game, this is a results business and the Wild went 1-4 (0-3 at home) and the Blues went 4-1.
The Wild also lost Staal with a scary-looking head injury after he clanked skates with Allen after a scoring chance and couldn’t brace himself before crashing head-first into the end wall. He was down on the ice for several moments. He was finally helped to his feet and helped to the tunnel looking dazed and uncomfortable.
The update after the game was he was taken to a local hospital for observation in stable condition. Hopefully we’ll get a better update later or Sunday.
Obviously, just a tremendously disappointing way to finish the season for the Wild.
"Yeah. That’s what hurts the most is… what is this, five years in a row?” Haula said. “I’m sick of it. We’re all sick of it. We’ll say this or that or whatever, but I’m just so [ticked] off. Like I said, it’s just hard to put it into context right now.”
Parise added, “It’s tough to handle really. None of us expected this. It’s going to be a long offseason for sure. We tried to get our way back into the series but when you’re down 3-nothing in the series you’re really asking a lot, not that we quit, we never quit, we tried, we played hard all the way til the end but, like I said, right now it’s just a disappointing group of players.”
Added Suter, “Obviously this year has a different feel than the last years. I thought the team we had this year and just the experience that we had gained over the course of the year and over the course of last few years making the playoffs, this year definitely has a different feel: the feel of disappointment, the feel of having a team that could’ve gone far. It’s extremely disappointing.”
Yeo didn’t gloat.
“He held it together as a coach,” Scottie Upshall said. “He's done a great job with our group, him and the coaching staff have a really good approach to the way they lead us. He kept his composure … this is big for him, although he made it clear that it wasn't about him, I'm sure right now he's enjoying a cold one thinking that was a [heck] of a series.”
Yeo actually began his presser by saying, “Really happy to finish it tonight. That's a group that definitely ... I know it's tough they didn't get the win, but they gave us more than anything we could handle and obviously Bruce has done a great job, Chuck has done a great job and their team did a great job. They showed a lot of character.”
More Yeo on the Wild: "I knew ... it's easy for me because I'm familiar with the group across from us. I've seen them battle back, and I've seen them continue to fight and push. It's a group with skill and it's a group that plays a real strong, real tough game that's tough to deal with. But it's a group that's got a lot of pride and a lot of character. I knew that we get up 2-0, I knew that we were going to have to keep on playing and there wasn't going to be a second that they were going to stop pushing and obviously they showed that."
"It's not about me and that's what I've said. I've been sincere when I've said that. I don't think that what I'm feeling right now would be any different if it was any other team. Our goal is to advance in the playoffs and obviously it's a little bit of irony in it, that I'm facing my former team. But our goal was to advance in the playoffs and for our group to continue to grow and have a chance to keep competing for a Stanley Cup and that's what we have right now."
On the handshake line with his former players, Yeo said, “Everybody there is first-class and they've had an unbelievable year and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Even the way that they fought the whole way through, they should be ... I know that they're not satisfied but they've done great things this year and I'm sure that we'll be seeing each other some more..
“They're good people and they said, 'Congrats!'”
I’ll be on KFAN at 9:15 a.m. Monday. Please check out Monday’s paper for my look ahead and following along Tuesday for the season wrapup.
Hope you enjoyed our coverage this season.