WINNIPEG — “Listen, we’re tryin’.”
Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau stood in that unenviable, impossible spot behind the podium after a 4-1 loss in Winnipeg, trying to explain a game that saw his team’s shot totals descend from nine in the first period, to five in the second, to three in the final stanza.
The Winnipeg Jets had just kicked Minnesota’s hind ends to Portage and Main and back, and there was Boudreau, fielding the questions about what plan he had to turn the battleship around in time for Game 3 on Sunday.
The problem is, there’s no real answer.
“You guys are trying to make it sound like we’re not tryin’,” he said to the Minnesota press, grilling poor Boudreau like a summer rib eye. “They played really good, and they beat us tonight. We’ll be ready on Sunday. We’ve got a lot of pride in that room.”
Media: “What happened after the first period?”
Boudreau: “Well, they were playing pretty good. Give the other team credit tonight. They played really good. They won the battles, and consequently they had the puck and it was in our zone.”
Media: “What about getting into the middle more?”
Boudreau: “It’s not like we’re not trying to get there. We’re trying to get there and the other team is not allowing us to get there. I don’t think it’s for a lack of effort. We will try harder the next game and we’ll have a different little strategy and we’ll see if it works.
Media: “What did you think of your matchups, coach?”
Boudreau: “I think all the matchups were hurting us tonight.”
And so it went, the media chasing the magical, elusive elixir, the way the Wild had chased Winnipeg around the Minnesota zone for most of 60 minutes in Game 2.
Too big. Too fast. Too deep, and just too much, these Jets appear to be for the boys from Minny.
They’ve played six periods of hockey in this Round 1 series, and Minnesota’s leading scorer — 42-goal man Eric Staal — has three shots on goal and less points (zero) than Jack Roslovic (two) and Joe Morrow (one).
From the blazing fast Nikolaj Ehlers, to that Finnish rifleman Patrik Laine, to a six-foot-five set-up man in Blake Wheeler who spins away from checks like he’s Patrick Kane, this was a clinic on what the Winnipeg Jets can do to you when they have all hands on deck.
Dustin Byfuglien was an absolute terror, a reminder of the value of big, physical players when the game shifts into playoff mode. Small speedsters may be fine all season long, but come springtime guys like Byfuglien can change a game, as his mighty hits and thunderous presence did in Game 2.
“He’s just a wild card. There are very few players like him,” marvelled Jets centre Paul Stastny. “Brent Burns maybe? … But (Byfuglien) is always moving around, too, so that’s what makes him tough to defend. He might give up a chance here and there, but he creates more chances than he gives up.”
There is something solid, something genuine about this Winnipeg team, a quality that Canadians may just be beginning to realize as they tune in to Jets hockey in earnest for the first time. Winnipeg has a way of owning the puck, like the big kid at the outdoor rink who could steal your puck and keep it for as long as he wanted to.
The Jets control the play in the opponent’s zone for an entire shift, and when the other team finally gets the puck on its stick they are gassed. So they dump it out, the Jets get it again. It’s the old rinse and repeat, and now the Wild have to find a way out of the spin cycle.
They’ve had momentum for about five minutes so far in this series.
“We’ve got to find it now,” said Mikko Koivu, of the famous hockey family from Turku, Finland. “We’ve been strong all year long at home and for sure now it changes — you go home and you got your home crowd going. But that’s not an automatic thing. We’ve got to regroup here.”
No one is quitting, of course, in a Wild room full of professionals. But being a pro also means you’ve traveled this road before, seen a similar movie somewhere down the line, and you know what it means to be without defenceman Ryan Suter and the 26:46 of quality defensive ice time each night.
You look across at these Jets and see four solid lines, a defence that moves the puck north as swiftly and accurately as any, and a goalie who… Well, we don’t know much about Connor Hellebuyck in the playoffs yet.
The Wild managed just 37 shots through six periods here, while the Jets have enjoyed back to back 40-shot nights.
“They’re a pretty good defensive team this year,” observed Boudreau. “You can tell they’re playing hard. They’re playing well.
“They’re going to be tough.”