Sixty-two-year-old Boudreau turning Wild into top tier contender
ST. PAUL—In a little more than six months on the job, Bruce Boudreau continues to prove his worth.
As the season nears its midpoint, the 62-year-old coach has led the Wild to the best point percentage in the Western Conference, thanks largely to an unprecedented 12-game winning streak that spanned nearly a month.
As of Monday afternoon, the Wild trail the Chicago Blackhawks by two points in the Central Division but have played four fewer games. Somehow, Boudreau has taken a roster nearly identical to the one that eked into the playoffs last season and turned it into a top-tier contender.
His most impressive feat so far might be the way he recently navigated a treacherous West Coast trip on the heels of the end of the team's winning streak.
Boudreau and the Wild ventured into the NHL's version of the Bermuda Triangle last week — San Jose, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim — and emerged with five of six possible points on a trip that has consistently knocked the Wild off course in recent seasons.
"It has always been a tough trip," star left winger Zach Parise said. "They aren't easy games."
In five seasons under coach Mike Yeo, the Wild were a combined 9-15-2 in games played in California. Yeo only once had a winning season record in California. Last season, the trip was smack dab in the middle of a stretch of losses in 13 of 14 games that led to Yeo being fired.
Although Boudreau knew his job wasn't on the line last week, he also knew the Wild couldn't afford a slump, especially with tough games this week against the Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks.
"You look at the schedule ... and (it's like), 'Uh oh,' " Boudreau said. "It's a tough stretch."
The Wild came out of the first half of that stretch with a winning record, beating the Sharks and Ducks and falling to the Kings in overtime.
Boudreau emphasized that losing streaks seem to follow winning streaks, so he was happy the Wild were able to bounce back after watching their 12-game winning streak end at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets on New Year's Eve.
"I don't think any one of us were worried about how we were going to respond after getting our streak snapped," Parise said. "It wasn't going to go on forever; we understood that ... even though we were winning, there were areas that we could be better at. I don't think we were ever worried about a letdown after that Columbus game."
That said, it speaks volumes that the Wild were able to prove it.
"We weren't good against Columbus," star defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We knew we had to play better. ... We were able to get back on that horse. That is a good thing to have that confidence that we can get back to our game."
The Wild are hoping that confidence carries them through this week.