SAINT PAUL, Minn. — While joking that he’s not answering calls from numbers with Twin Cities area codes, St. Louis coach Mike Yeo said he doesn’t want the Blues’ first-round playoff series with the Wild to be about him and his history in Minnesota.
Good luck with that. Yeo has been the head man behind the Blues bench for barely two months. Before that, Yeo spent parts of five seasons coaching the Wild.
His family still lives in Minnesota. His son skated in the famed Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament last month. He was the coach of the Wild two seasons ago when they upset the Blues in round one of the playoffs.
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There are endless connections between the teams, and Yeo is at the center of nearly all of them, even if he’s trying to put the focus elsewhere ahead of the Blues’ first-round Western Conference playoff series vs. the Wild that starts Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center.
“There’s too much at stake and I will not allow it to get personal because my team, they need me to have the right mindset, have the right focus, have the right composure,” Yeo said Tuesday while admitting that getting fired by the Wild in February 2016 was gut-wrenching.
“For me, this is playoff hockey, for me there’s something much more at stake, something that’s way bigger in my eyes than a little revenge here. It’s the pursuit of winning the Stanley Cup, that’s our focus and so we have a real tough opponent in our way and we’ll be ready for that.”
The Wild, who finished second in both the Central Division and in the Western Conference, will open a playoff series with a home game for just the third time in franchise history.
Minnesota last faced St. Louis in early March and lost, which was the start of a miserable 2-10-2 stretch that cost it the division title. But the Wild enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, which has optimism growing despite coach Bruce Boudreau’s well-documented history of regular-season success followed by early playoff exits.
“It ramps up pretty good,” Boudreau said of the playoff atmosphere. “There’s no taking shifts off. There’s no coasting.”
While the Blues went all the way to the Western Conference Final last season, falling to San Jose in six games, the Wild fell to Dallas in a six-game opening-round series a year ago. But that was without offensive catalyst Zach Parise, who missed the series due to injury.
Parise is healthy now, despite needing a few stitches in his face recently, and is excited to get back at it.
“Playoffs is a fun time of year,” said Parise, who went to the Stanley Cup Final in his final season in New Jersey and has now been a part of five consecutive trips to the playoffs in Minnesota.
“It’s been a different scenario for us than in the past couple years. We’ve known we’re going to be in for a while, and we’ve been excited and me personally I’m really looking forward to it.”
With 49 wins and 106 points, The Wild had their finest regular season since they premiered as an expansion team in 2000. But their former coach may have the team to end that fun ride in a hurry.