ST. LOUIS – Like the good ol’ days, Mike Yeo’s voice once again was inside Wild players’ heads Saturday.
In an awkward setup inside Scottrade Center, the coach’s news conferences are being held in a room adjacent to the visitor’s locker room. One half is the setup for the news conferences, the other is a quasi-lounge and stretching/training area for the Wild.
So Saturday, while Yeo’s voice echoed with the aid of a couple of loudspeakers, a few of Yeo’s former players heard every word of their former coach as they foam-rolled and received massages on the other side of a long curtain.
“I’ve been on that side with that group over there where we’re down 2-0 and came back to win a series,” Yeo said, referring to 2014 when the Wild returned against Colorado and rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to win the series in seven games. “I know that they’re not going to go away lightly. They’re not just going to lose. We’re going to have to beat them.”
The difference between 2014 and 2017 for the Wild is the Blues took Games 1 and 2 on the road and it’s the Blues who return home for two games starting with Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised Game 3.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only 18 teams in NHL history have rallied to win a best-of-seven series after losing their first two games at home. The last to do so was the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round against Montreal.
Teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series hold a record of 305-48 (86.4 percent). The Blues are 10-2 in such situations. The two other times they won the first two games on the road ended in a sweep (1993 vs. Chicago and 2001 vs. Dallas).
“We don’t worry about any of that stuff. People can say whatever they want and think we have no chance, but we’ve seen crazier things happen,” Wild winger Jason Zucker said. “We feel we’re a very good hockey team, and we’ve got to come in [Sunday] and win a game.”
Most concerning, though, is that Yeo has implemented a game plan that has neutralized the NHL’s second-best offensive team.
In 137 minutes, 48 seconds in the series, the Blues have allowed two goals, none at 5-on-5. Add in the March 7 meeting that was Yeo’s first game as head coach against his former team, and the Wild hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal in 197 minutes against the Blues.
Yeo swears this isn’t because he knows the Wild so intimately that he has some secret elixir as to how to shut down its players.
“It’s not like we’ve found a magic formula that prevents them from getting to shots and chances,” Yeo said. “Sometimes it’s [goalie] Jake [Allen], sometimes it’s a great defensive play, a great stick knocking a rebound out of there. Sometimes it’s a PK. Whatever the case is, we’ve found a way.
“We know they’re going to continue to try to pour more on us, and we have to be ready for that.”
Zach Parise has the Wild’s only two goals in the series. Seventeen other skaters don’t have a goal. Fourteen skaters don’t have a point.
The Wild hasn’t held a lead in the series, which is reminiscent to 2015 when Yeo’s Wild knocked off the Blues in the first round and then got swept in the second round by Chicago without ever holding a lead.
Mikael Granlund, especially, has been a rumor in the series. The Wild’s leading scorer has an assist but has been manhandled. The byproduct seems to be Granlund flying by the net, throwing pucks away and passing up shots.
“We’ve always wished he shot more,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think when you’re trying so hard, you’re trying for the perfect play. We’ve been trying to tell him for 84 games now that he’s got a good shot, use it and let the other guys go to the net and pick up the loose change there.
“Sometimes these really gifted players are thinking three thoughts ahead, and they want to make the great play.”
There’s no doubt the Blues’ rugged defensemen are trying to get in the grill of the Wild’s smaller forwards, especially Granlund. Colton Parayko, who hammered Granlund a few times in Game 2, admitted as such Saturday.
“I think playoffs is just another level,” Parayko said. “You really see how close and tight the games are, 2-1 games both games. The space is just kind of almost shrinking quickly. Not just him, every player in playoffs I think is going to be tough for them to generate offense.”
Added Robert Bortuzzo: “They’ve got a lot of high-end power forwards and a lot speed and skill over there, so if you’re going to give those guys room, they’re going to take it and make plays. So if we could press up and keep it hard for them in their own end, that’s part of it too.
“It’s good positional play, it’s good sticks, it’s finishing checks in the right position. No one is running around looking for contact, it’s taking what’s given.”
Parise said the Wild can’t dwell on the hole it’s in. It can’t think of Game 4. It must only focus on winning Game 3.
“It’s a little disheartening what happened in the first two, but it’s over,” he said.
And if the Wild has any prayer of extending this series past a potential sweep, it must find a way to score some goals. That’ll take courage.
Zucker, one of the most productive even-strength players in the NHL the past two seasons, said it’s about execution, getting inside and a “whole slew of things. We have to keep shooting the puck. We have to keep battling in front of the net. They defend really hard. They’re a really tough team. Big defensemen, strong defenseman. We’ve got to find a way to make it happen.”
Boudreau has lost the first two home games of a series three times as an NHL coach. Last year with Anaheim, the Ducks did that, then reeled off three wins in a row, including Games 3 and 4 in Nashville. He only completed the comeback from losing his first two home games once with Washington in 2009 during the first round against the Rangers.
He told the Wild of his experiences Saturday in attempt to emotionally lift the spirits of a team he admits “was a little down” when players arrived at the airport before flying to St. Louis.
The Blues are expecting the Wild’s best Sunday. Former Wild center Kyle Brodziak was on the 2015 Wild team that won two playoff games in St. Louis.
“We know they’re going to be fighting for their life,” Brodziak said. “We expect it to be the hardest game of the series so far. I think their desperation level will be at another level, and we have to be prepared for it.”
Added linemate Ryan Reaves: “Going down 3-0 would be a tough spot. They’re going to come out hungry, and we have to answer the bell.”