On Feb. 21, the Chicago Blackhawks eased past the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center as Jonathan Toews produced a hat trick, prompting Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher to trade for two veterans.
Fletcher made the deal in the hopes of avoiding a second-round playoff loss to Chicago, and it is working beautifully. The way his team has been playing, there would be little chance of the Wild reaching the second round.
On Tuesday night at the X, the Wild watched another superstar score a hat trick. Alex Ovechkin scored three goals in regulation, T.J. Oshie scored in overtime, and the Washington Capitals pushed the Wild’s slump deeper into spring with a 5-4 victory.
In February, a star’s hat trick and a home loss prompted dissatisfaction and a dramatic move to give the Wild a chance to play for a championship.
In late March, a star’s hat trick and a home loss led to happy talk and a dissertation from the coach on the similarities between a “groove” and a “rut.”
“For 65 games, we were in a pretty good groove,” Bruce Boudreau said. “And now we’re sort of in a rut, trying to get out of that rut. But a rut and a groove are the same thing, only with different meanings.”
The Wild has earned four of the past 18 possible points while ceding the top seed in the West to Chicago. If a groove and a rut are the same thing, Mike Yeo should have gotten a raise instead of a pink slip.
If the current slump — may we call it a “slump” or is it merely a coincidental lapse in the space-time continuum? — continues, these days of holding the second seed will soon evoke nostalgia.
No matter how the Wild wants to phrase it, the team’s spoken goal has changed from winning the division to eking out an occasional point.
Tuesday, goalie Devan Dubnyk fell to 1-8-1 in his past 11 starts (with one no-decision), Zach Parise took a stick to the face that may not be as problematic as an upper-body injury he suffered on the same play, and several players admitted they failed to execute the plan to keep Ovechkin from standing where he likes to stand and shooting the way he likes to shoot.
Apparently, the plan was “cover Ovechkin,” but in the Wild’s new-age linguistic interpretations, maybe “cover” and “ignore” are viewed as identical strategies.
As of February, Boudreau and the Wild players he inherited had formed a mutually beneficial alliance. Boudreau had helped them avoid their traditional winter collapse, and they seemed capable of altering his disappointing playoff résumé.
Then Yeo visited on March 7, the Blues beat the Wild 2-1 at Xcel Energy Center, and Boudreau and this group no longer seemed likely to ease each other’s pain.
Collapses under Yeo were not shocking given that the teams never reached the top of the standings before they collapsed and that the players’ flaws always were evident.
Boudreau helped the same group of players put together what remains to date the best regular season in franchise history, which only makes the backdated collapse feel crueller.
At least Yeo’s collapses offered time for recovery. This Wild team is threatening to enter the playoffs with a franchise-best seeding yet lower-than-usual expectations.
Playing as it is now, the Wild may be underdogs in the first round as a second or third seed. Or a fifth.
“Things are tough right now for us,” Ryan Suter said. “To battle back like we did, to get that point, I think is big for us, big for our confidence.”
Those with advanced degrees in statistical analysis might have noticed a trend.
Under Yeo, this group of players annually collapsed and panicked.
Under Boudreau, this group of players has collapsed and panicked.
A ditch by any other name will break your axle.