On a glorious Monday in the Twin Cities, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau hoped his players were on the golf course. Or taking their kids to the park. Or going out to lunch, or playing video games, or seeing a movie.
In short, Boudreau wanted them to do anything other than obsess over the herculean task they face in their first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild returned to the Twin Cities after Sunday’s 3-1 loss, which plunged it into a 3-0 hole in the best-of-seven series. With two days before Wednesday’s Game 4 in St. Louis, Boudreau decided to give the players Monday off before resuming practice Tuesday.
The coach declared it a “mental health day’’ for a team looking to shake the recurring nightmare of Blues goalie Jake Allen, the St. Louis defense and its own inability to score. Boudreau, however, did not take his own advice. He and his staff holed up at Xcel Energy Center, redoubling their efforts to find a way to break the pattern and win Game 4.
“I just want them to relax,’’ Boudreau said in a news conference Monday. “If you’ve been in this business long enough, you’re not going to take your mind off it. It’s an impossibility.
“You live with this 24 hours. You go to bed thinking about it, you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, you wake up in the morning thinking about it and how you can correct it. That’s why we’ve all been in here since 8:30 [Monday morning], trying to figure out another way. … It’s tough, but the one thing I know about this group is we’re not going to quit.’’
Boudreau admitted his options are limited. In Tuesday’s practice, he said, the Wild will “go back to the drawing board’’ with a power play that hasn’t responded to any of the variations he’s tried thus far. Other than altering line combinations or power-play personnel, there aren’t many modifications he can make to a team whose identity is well-established, against an opponent that knows the Wild so thoroughly.
Throughout the series, the coach said, nothing St. Louis has done has surprised him. But nothing the Wild has tried has broken the Blues’ nearly impenetrable defense. The Wild has only one five-on-five goal, scored by Charlie Coyle in Sunday’s Game 3 loss, and a single power-play goal — scored with a two-man advantage — on 10 opportunities.
Boudreau said he has not lost faith in goaltender Devan Dubnyk, whose goals-against average of 1.86 ranks seventh in the postseason. He also asserted that the Wild’s huge advantage in attempted shots indicates the team “hasn’t played that bad,’’ and he praised his players for their tenacity during a deeply frustrating start to the postseason.
“Can we play better?’’ Boudreau said. “Of course we can. I think there are certain times that things happen that we should be able to adjust a little bit better. But overall, is the care and the fight and the try there? Yeah, it has been.’’
Boudreau acknowledged that the theme of the series has been turned upside down. No one outside the organization, he said, expects the Wild — once touted as a Stanley Cup favorite — to get out of the first round. “So they should be playing fairly loose,’’ he said. “There’s no pressure on our team now, except for the pressure we put on ourselves.’’
Still, Boudreau reiterated the Wild must approach Game 4 as if it is a Game 7. Over the next two days, the coaching staff will try to help players manage the urgency of the situation without becoming so stressed that it affects their play.
Boudreau said he will be thinking about it 24/7. For his players, he hopes the short break they got Monday will be the calming influence they need to avoid an early start to the much longer summer break.
“You don’t understand, [the players] want to win as bad as anybody — for the city, for themselves, for the state,’’ Boudreau said. “They know how long it’s been. All of us would want a different outcome at this stage.
“So let them get over feeling sorry for themselves for a day. Then come back and have a good practice [Tuesday], then get on the road and go in just to win one game. Let’s start with that. And then, we’ll think of something before [Game 5].’’