Six straight playoff appearances for the Minnesota Wild have resulted in six early trips home. In the second and third years of their streak they managed to get eliminated in the second round. However, each of the last three seasons has resulted in a first-round loss to a division rival (Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, and Winnipeg Jets). The Wild have never won more than two games in a series in the last three years, their record combined is a dismal 4-12. After years of failures, how did the problems persist into this postseason run?
$196 Million in Injuries
There aren’t many teams in the league (if any) that can say they have $196 million invested in players not playing in the postseason. Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was the first to go out with four games remaining in the regular season. The lower-body injury he sustained would keep him out until the start of the 2018-19 regular season.
Zach Parise was the next man down after playing three very solid games in the postseason, looking like the most dominant point-producer Minnesota possessed. Parise was diagnosed with a fractured sternum. The injury was listed as week-to-week, but Wild fans knew it meant a quick elimination and thus being out for the remainder of the postseason again.
Related: Minnesota Wild Playoffs Post-Mortem
Devan Dubnyk is a good goaltender; not great but good as evidenced by another early trip home from the postseason. He finished the regular season with solid statistics at 35 wins, five shutouts, .918 SV% (save percentage), and 2.52 GAA (goals against average). What makes it even more impressive is the slew of injuries that plagued both the Wild’s offense and defense throughout the course of the season.
During the Wild’s postseason run, Dubnyk did not look sharp. He finished the series with one win, a .908 SV%, and 3.39 GAA. That is a dramatic decline from his regular season play.
It’s hard to know exactly what caused the steep decline for the Wild’s All-Star goaltender. Dubnyk’s 60 games played during the 2017-18 regular season were the fewest games he has played in the last three years (67 in 2015-16, 65 in 2016-17). He is 31-years-old but will turn 32 in less than two weeks.
His age could have played a factor (yet another aging veteran locked up in Minnesota). The injuries to key Wild players and playing against a true Stanley Cup contender in the Jets are probably the more probable reasons for the noticeable decline in play.
No Goal Scoring
Nine goals in five games for Minnesota was never going to be enough. Getting shut out in two games, consecutive games no less (one at home). It’s embarrassing for a team to be so pressed up against the wall due to the salary cap, yet can’t buy goals when they are desperately needed.
Three of the nine goals came from the Wild’s highest-paid offensive skater in Parise. The other six goals came from six different skaters including Mikael Granlund, Matt Cullen, Eric Staal, Matt Dumba, Jordan Greenway, and Marcus Foligno. That’s right; a defenseman, a rookie, and multiple fourth line players managed to score before Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, or Tyler Ennis (played one game) could even manage to sniff a point. When fingers get pointed, look to the players listed with no points in the postseason.
Related: Wild Elimination Looking Likely
The Wild are one of the few teams in the NHL that would solve their early-round playoff loss crisis by hiring a coach known for losing early in the postseason. Bruce Boudreau is a fine coach, the proof is in a trophy case that features a Presidents’ Trophy (2009-10) with the Washington Capitals and a Jack Adams Trophy (2008). Boudreau has a total of eight division titles, four with the each of the first two teams he coached, namely the Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.
Boudreau is the first offensive-minded coach the Wild have had in their brief history. It’s worked out well with the team stringing together consecutive 100-point seasons in Minnesota, only the third and fourth times in franchise history. Both seasons with Boudreau have also included the most goals scored in Wild history as well.
All of those accolades have one thing in common, they took place during the regular season. Every year it seems to be in the postseason that Boudreau struggles to work his magic. His 43-47 overall playoff record has resulted in one single trip to the Conference Finals back in 2014-15 with the Ducks.
His 2-8 record with the Wild is particularly bad, but he’s working with a team locked into bad contracts for aging veterans. It’s hard to fault the man for his work in Minnesota, but he will have to find a way to win soon if he wants to retain his position with the Wild.