NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Even under better circumstances, where coaches aren’t dropping like flies, it would be fair to wonder about Bruce Boudreau.
Don’t get me wrong; I’d rank Boudreau among the very best bench bosses in the NHL. Yet, as we’ve seen with a strong coach like Gerard Gallant and a big name like Mike Babcock, few coaches are immune to this recent bug.
Let’s take a look at Boudreau’s situation, and that of the Wild, as they host the locomotive Lightning on NBCSN tonight.
[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7P.M. ET ON NBCSN]
Boudreau and the Wild suffering through more than just lineup card gaffes
Again, with Gallant and other coaches surprisingly on the market, this ranks as a tense time for any coach whose team is meandering. Boudreau and the Wild stand out even by those standards.
Most clearly, the team can point to an immediate mistake. Boudreau admitted that he made a “dumb mistake” that left the Wild with only five defensemen in a brutal 7-3 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday.
“It was a mistake I made,” said Boudreau after the game. “It was all my fault. I do the lineups first thing in the morning, and the first thing that goes down is the lowest number. I put Donato on and forgot Pateryn. When I looked and saw [the lineup card] was full, I figured I did it right. It was a dumb mistake. Never done that before. Just hard to do the game with five D. I take full blame for that.”
That embarrassing loss pushed Minnesota’s losing streak to four in a row. The bad times extend beyond that, as the Wild only won once in their last seven games (1-5-1) and find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot. What seemed like a season-turning December hot streak now feels like a faint memory.
Combine this dire standings situation with the Lightning playing at an incredible high level, and it seems like a disaster in the making.
Boudreau is no stranger to the hot seat
Then again, Boudreau’s been here before.
Almost exactly one year ago, PHT asked if the Wild’s future should include Boudreau. We selected Boudreau for the “Under Pressure” feature heading into 2018-19, and his mild playoff semi-guarantee didn’t work out. Remarkably, Boudreau has persisted, even remaining in place when the team changed GMs to Bill Guerin.
Honestly, it’s kind of shocking to see Boudreau still behind that Wild bench, his face turning troubling colors as the team struggles.
Some might even get a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” vibe from wondering if this is the time Boudreau might go. We’ve even seen players call Boudreau out before, like when Jason Zucker called him out, but then apologized. How many lives does this cat have left, though?
The Wild would probably be better off bottoming out, but they’re instead choosing the pass of Sissyphus. Boudreau is one of the best at push that boulder up hill, yet you have to wonder if it’s all kind of pointless. Especially when you consider the contender who might stand in stark contrast on Thursday.
Lightning aren’t exactly an easy draw
It’s almost cruel to send the Wild in against the Lightning right now. They’ve stood out as one of the best teams in the NHL lately, seemingly rekindling some of last (regular) season’s magic.
You don’t need to dig too deep into the numbers. Simply recall that they recently went on a 10-game winning streak, and won 11 of their last 12.
However hot Boudreau’s seat is, this tough game opens a crucial stretch. To start, this represents the beginning of a seven-game homestand, pretty much all against challenging opponents. Zoom out and the stakes grow: the Wild play 11 of their next 12 games at home.
Just check out this enormously important stretch:
|Jan. 16:||vs. Tampa Bay|
|Jan. 18:||vs. Dallas|
|Jan. 20:||vs. Florida|
|Jan. 22:||vs. Detroit|
|Feb. 1:||vs. Boston|
|Feb. 4:||vs. Chicago|
|Feb. 6:||vs. Vancouver|
|Feb. 7:||at Dallas|
|Feb. 9:||vs. Colorado|
|Feb. 11:||vs. Vegas|
|Feb. 13:||vs. Rangers|
|Feb. 15:||vs. San Jose|
So, tonight’s game against the Lightning might not be make-or-break, but the next month sure seems that way. And that’s as close to “fair” as an opportunity you’ll see for coaches right now … assuming Boudreau gets a full swing at this.
John Walton will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on Thursday with Mike Milbury and Ben Lovejoy.