Boudreau feeling confident about Wild’s chances to earn playoff spot

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With one victory in their last seven games as they cling to the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau is feeling confident about getting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and putting up a fight.

Appearing on the Paul Allen Show on KFAN Thursday morning, Boudreau went all Mark Messier on us.

“I can tell you right now; I’m not Joe Namath, but we are going to make the playoffs,” he said. “And we’re going to be somebody hard to deal with … I’m making that prediction right now.”

He followed that up later in the morning after the Wild’s skate ahead of their Friday game against the New Jersey Devils.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Boudreau said via the Star Tribune. “That’s about as elaborate as I want to get. You want me to predict how many wins we’re going to have in the last month and a half? No. But we’re going to make the playoffs.”

The Wild currently have a two-point cushion as the West’s second wild card, leading a crowded pack at the bottom of the conference standings. There are six teams within six points of Minnesota, and just to show how nutty the playoff picture is even the last-place Los Angeles Kings are eight points behind.

They’ve made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but have been unable to get out of the first round since 2015. But right now Boudreau said he feels his team is “on the edge of things being really good rather than being very mediocre.”

It hasn’t been an easy second half for Boudreau or the Wild, and it should make the upcoming NHL trade deadline interesting. New general manager Paul Fenton is still taking stock of what he has as he looks to reshape the team’s future. 

“There will be some hard decisions to make come the trade deadline, but in the next 10 days or so, it will be determined by just how people play,” Fenton told Dan Rosen of NHL.com last week.

Eric Staal, Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Brad Hunt, and Anthony Bitetto are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Does the value of moving any of them for future assets outweigh that of keeping them and attempting to put up a fight against potential opening round opponents in Winnipeg, Nashville, San Jose, or Calgary? They’re already without captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Matt Dumba for the rest of the season due to injury, and are in need of Jason Zucker picking it up offensively. The Nino Niederreiter trade is not off to a good start from Minnesota’s perspective either.

When asked if the Wild’s current cushion remains tight come Feb. 25, the day before the trade deadline, Fenton put it simply.

“Then I’ve got a hard decision to make, a very, very hard decision,” he said. “To evaluate this team the next little bit is certainly the reason that we’re having this conversation right now.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Easy as 1, 2, 3: Hat tricks on the rise this season

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DENVER (AP) In keeping with hockey tradition, a tip of the cap to honor Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine .

They’ve each recorded a hat trick of hat tricks this season.

Easy as one, two, three. Or so it may seem.

Around the league, there have been 61 hat tricks through the first 770 games of the season – the most since 1995-96 (62), according to research by the NHL stats and information department. Leading the surge are Ovechkin of Washington and Laine of Winnipeg with three each.

Hold on to your hat, there’s more: There has been at least one three-goal scorer in 10 of the 13 days leading into to the All-Star break.

“I think the reason why,” Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen succinctly surmised, “is because scoring around the league is up.”

Simple, yes. But on target, too.

There have been 132 instances of a team scoring six or more goals in a game so far, which is the most since 2005-06. Teams are averaging 3.03 goals per game, which is on pace for the highest-scoring season since the 3.14 in, you guessed it, 1995-96. There has been an 18 percent increase in scoring since the post-expansion low of 2.57 goals per game for teams in 2003-04, before a lockout led to rule changes.

Naturally, hat tricks figure to go hand-in-hand with the escalation.

“It’s exciting and not something everyone has done,” said Nashville forward Austin Watson , who had his first NHL hat trick on Nov. 25 against Anaheim. “It’s a cool achievement.”

Long associated with cricket and soccer, the term hat trick appears to have made its way into the mainstream hockey vernacular when a Toronto businessman offered a hat to any player who scored three goals during an NHL game while visiting his town. As the legend goes, Chicago forward Alex Kaleta went into the shop in 1946 and found a fedora he fancied, according to an NHL.com story . Only, he didn’t have the funds to purchase it. The business owner offered to give it to Kaleta free of charge should he score three goals against the Maple Leafs.

Kaleta had four. Presto, a hat trick.

These days, hat tricks come in a variety of forms. There’s the natural one (three straight goals by a player), traditional (any three goals, sometimes culminating with a late empty-netter) and of course the “Gordie Howe” (a goal, assist and a fight).

The achievement of a hat trick has long been celebrated with fans tossing their hats on the ice. Ever wonder where all those hats go? The Avs, for one, donate the caps to the Denver Rescue Mission.

The fastest NHL hat trick took just 21 seconds by Chicago’s Bill Mosienko (1952). The most in a career? Wayne Gretzky, who had 50. Ovechkin has the most of any active player with 23.

They’re far from common – this year’s total of 61 so far is just 8 percent of all games. The Great One needed 1,487 games to get his 50.

All the increased scoring means the feat may someday lose a bit of its luster. But not yet.

“It’s a pretty hard thing to do,” said Minnesota forward Jason Zucker, who had a hat trick on Nov. 9, 2017. “Scoring any goal in this league is a hard thing to do. To do three in one game is pretty incredible.”

Ovechkin had two in a four-day window this season, while Laine had a pair over a six-day span, including a five-goal game on Nov. 24.

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog gave his first hat trick on Nov. 11, 2017, against Washington the royal treatment. He has the puck in a case with the game sheet and a picture. He said he doesn’t have his puck from the second one, which happened a month later.

“I don’t think guys are going out there trying to score hat tricks,” the All-Star Landeskog said. “Guys are going out there trying to help the team win.”

As for why there are so many hat tricks this season, Zucker has a simple deduction.

“It’s the speed. It’s the skill. It’s the sticks, the way guys shoot pucks now,” Zucker explained. “Guys don’t even have to try to shoot pucks – the sticks do a lot of the work for us.”

No need to convince Minnesota’s All-Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk of that.

“Teams are discovering ways to create chances and figure how pucks actually go in the net and not just thinking if you throw 50 pucks at the net that you’re going to score a bunch of goals,” Dubnyk said. “It’s understanding how to create offense. You can see it throughout the league this year. There’s a lot of offensive creativity and it’s making it tough for defenses and tough for goalies.”

AP Freelance Writer Jake Shapiro contributed to this report.

WATCH LIVE: Wild host Kings on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota returns home after losing at Philadelphia last night, 7-4 – tying their most goals allowed in a game this season. The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and led 3-2 in the second period before the Flyers scored three straight to take a 5-3 lead into the third. Ryan Suter scored in the third to cut the deficit to one but that was as close as the Wild got, ultimately falling to the Flyers, who sit last in the Metropolitan Division.

Zach Parise leads the team with 41 points (19G-22A) and is averaging 0.93 pts/game – his best since 2009-10 (1.01 w/ NJ). He has 12 points (four goals) over the last 10 games. He’s on pace for 35 goals this season, which would be his most since that 2009-10 campaign.

This game begins a road-heavy stretch for the Kings, who will play nine of their next 10 games away from Staples Center. Tonight marks the start of a three-game road trip, followed by one home game against the Blues, before a six-game East Coast road trip.

Ilya Kovalchuk has gone 10 straight games without a goal, but he has three assists in his last four games and his play has improved in the eyes of Kings head coach Willie Desjardins. In November and December, Kovalchuk had been buried in the lineup and even played as little as 6:20 in a game (on Nov. 25 vs. Edmonton). But his usage has increased lately and he played 20:53 on Saturday, his third-highest total of the season, and most under Desjardins.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

[Should Wild’s future include Bruce Boudreau?]

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate ThompsonMatt Luff

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

WILD
Jordan GreenwayEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach Parise – Charlie CoyleLuke Kunin
Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkMatt Hendricks

Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinGreg Pateryn
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Alex Stalock

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Xcel Energy Center.

NHL on NBCSN: Should Wild’s future include Bruce Boudreau?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Wild are hanging on to a Western Conference wild-card spot following Monday’s defeat to Philadelphia and hoping to find a way into the postseason to better their efforts over the last two springs. Three straight first round exits meant bye-bye to general manager Chuck Fletcher. Will a playoff miss or another early postseason disappointment mean goodbye to head coach Bruce Boudreau? The PHT staff give their thoughts on whether he should remain behind the bench beyond this season.

SEAN: The most-needed, realistic change for the Wild happened in April when they decided to not bring back Fletcher and hired Paul Fenton as new GM. Fletcher was the one that built this Minnesota roster, one that had some good times, but mostly has been hindered and will continue to be hindered by the long-term contracts he handed out during his tenure.

All Boudreau has done is continue to do what he does best: make teams competitive. We know his post-season record isn’t pretty, but with three NHL teams over his career, he’s been able to turn them around and win eight division titles and record eight 100-point seasons.

During Boudreau’s two-and-a-half seasons with the Wild the team is 10th in wins (116), seventh in goals per game (3.06), seventh in goals against (2.69), seventh in power play success (21 percent), and third in penalty kill success (82.6 percent). Some of those categories have improved each season, but goal scoring is down this season to 2.82 per game. While Zach Parise (19) is bouncing back strong, Eric Staal (13) is coming back down to earth after a 42-goal campaign last season. Jordan Greenway looks to have a bright future, but where’s the rest of the secondary scoring?

The head coach can only do so much with the roster he’s given, and given that the Wild are in a playoff spot at the moment, it’s a testament to the job Boudreau has done.

This is an old Wild team and Fenton is going to need to be creative in reshaping the roster into his liking. Going forward, that roster should include Boudreau behind the bench.

JAMES: This is a remarkably tricky situation, actually. I’ll admit that it’s tough, in part, because I legit worry about Boudreau’s health in coaching middling teams. The dude’s face basically turns into a mood ring of reds and purples over, say, goals and penalties.

If the Wild want to grind out every possible win, then keeping Boudreau is the smart choice. He’s an exceptional coach. Honestly, I get the feeling he actually helped the Wild be misleadingly good for longer than virtually anyone could ask for, as the roster Fletcher left behind is a real mixed bag.

It really hinges on what Fenton can do.

Would Charlie Coyle and other decent trade chips actually turn out to be the sort of great trade chips that could actually jumpstart a respectable rebuild? Could Fenton trick someone into sending an enormous trade package for Ryan Suter? (I’m guessing the dream of moving Parise’s matching, problem contract is too far-fetched, although Peter Chiarelli is still employed …)

In summary: if the Wild think they can rebuild, then dismissing Boudreau would … well, help them tank. If they plan on staying the course – which is more reasonable than usual because they simply might be stuck – then keeping Boudreau would get the most out of what they have.

Personally, I’d go the rebuild plan, but again, it’s because I actually really like Boudreau and want him to go to a team where he can win, eat ice cream, and generally be merry.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

ADAM: My reasoning for arguing that Boudreau should continue to be a part of the future in Minnesota is very simple: I still think he is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and as long as you have one of the best coaches in the NHL I can’t see firing him unless you have a darn good reason to or have a definite upgrade waiting. Right now I do not see that being the case, unless the Wild do something totally outrageous like go all in on Joel Quenneville. I know the first half of the season has not gone according to plan, but this is still a team that coming into this season having won 94 games in his first two years behind the bench, tied for the fifth-most in the league.

I don’t think the problems so far this year are the result of coaching.

For one, I’ve always argued that the biggest coach-killers in the NHL aren’t the superstars at the top of the lineup, but goaltenders. The Wild’s starting goalie — Devan Dubnyk — had a pretty shocking run through November and early December that really put the team in a hole. He has been better since then and, not surprisingly, so have the Wild.

There is also the fact that the roster is kind of short on impact talent up front. It’s not that they’re bad players, but there really isn’t anyone that is a true game-breaker. Parise, Suter, Mikko Koivu and Staal are all age 34 or older. Players like Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker are good enough when they are on top of their game to be top-six players, but they’re not anybody that is going to strike fear into opponents. Mikael Granlund is probably the closest thing they have to such a player.

There is only so much a coach can do with that sort of roster up front. The roster needs some tweaks for sure, and it needs another impact player up front, but I do not see a reason to part ways with Boudreau at this point.

JOEY: I think it might be time for the Wild to go in a different direction. Don’t get me wrong, I think Boudreau is a good coach, but the on-ice results don’t lie. The Wild are clinging on to a wild card spot right now and they’ve been bounced in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back years.

Let’s be honest, this core is getting old and the window is closing. Four of this team’s five leading scorers are 33 or older. Parise, Suter, Staal, and Koivu are all still productive, but this simply isn’t a team built to make a long run in the playoffs. Boudreau’s tried to lead this team to a championship and he’s come up short. That’s not necessarily just his fault, but that’s the way this business works.

Fenton took over in the Wild’s front office last May, which means he hasn’t had the opportunity to bring on his own coach. If the Wild fail to make the playoffs, or if they get in and get bounced early, you have to believe that Fenton will hand Boudreau his walking papers.

I just can’t see this group getting over the hump this year, so I’m going to go ahead and say that the Wild need to go in a different direction behind the bench.

SCOTT: Truthfully, this is a tough question to answer.

If you’re looking for coaches with experience coaching young talent — and you’re thinking about possibly blowing it all up and getting younger or even re-tooling on the fly — then who would be better than Boudreau?

Look, I understand if you want to go in another direction. A new GM will sometimes (perhaps often) want to bring in who he thinks is the best coach for the job. Fenton might have a guy in mind. That’s fair. That’s hockey. But when it comes to coaching, and understanding the game and what it takes to win at all levels (ECHL, American Hockey League and National Hockey League), it’s Bruce. From unsure rookies to rugged veterans, Boudreau has coached them all.

Boudreau has found success at every level he’s coached and entering Monday, had a .654 win percentage as a bench boss (.631 in Minny). There’s a reason why Boudreau owns the record for being the fastest coach hired after being fired. A lot of teams would give their first-born for a coaching record like that.

If Fenton decides he wants to re-tool the roster on the fly, then again, unless you can woo Quenneville to town, there’s not a better coach out there.

Boudreau makes every team he coaches a competitive one, regardless of the talent he’s given. Unless there’s a better option, it would be best to give Boudreau ingredients.

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Xcel Energy Center.

The Buzzer: McDavid does it all, again; Point hits 60

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Three stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

No team goes the way of their best player quite like the Edmonton Oilers.

McDavid played the role of McJesus on Thursday, saving the Oilers from another loss by scoring his second of the game with just eight seconds left on the game clock. With one point secured, McDavid made sure Edmonton took home the maximum, scoring the shootout winner against the Florida Panthers.

Yes, McJesus saves — including the blushes of his own teammates after this ugly own goal.

2. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning 

This kid should be an NHL All-Star (and he still could be if he wins the Last Men In vote).

He assisted on the tying goal in the second period on the power play and then rattled off back-to-back goals — his 27th and 28th — to secure a 3-1 come-from-behind win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Point gets overshadowed by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but the 22-year-old is a special player and now has 60 points on the season. He now has back-to-back two-goal, one assist nights and has points 10 of his past 11 games.

Never mind being an all-star, he belongs in the Hart conversation.

3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers needed someone — anyone — to help them break out of their eight-game losing streak.

And it was Hart who produced that special effort, stopping 37 of 38 shots sent this way in a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars. Hart was just 2:51 away from his first NHL shutout when Jamie Benn finally found a way past him in the third period.

Hart doesn’t have a great record at 3-4-1, but his .920 save percentage would be a godsend for the Flyers if he could keep it hovering around there. The lack of run support is a big deal, but games like the one Hart had on Thursday make the win still possible.

Other notable performances:

  • Jordan Binnington (the goalie you’ve never heard of) got his second straight win in as many NHL starts, stopping 28 of 29 shots. He picked up his first win in fine fashion earlier this week with a 25-save shutout on Monday.
  • Jason Zucker scored twice, including the game-winner as the Minnesota Wild held on in a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets
  • John Tavares had two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist in a 4-2 Toronto Maple Leafs win against the New Jersey Devils.
  • Mat Barzal had a goal and two apples in a 4-3 win in the Battle of New York.
  • Robin Lehner made it eight wins in a row to help lift the Islanders past the Rangers.
  • Artemi Panarin, who is getting offers from all over the place to stay in Columbus, gave John Tortorella his 600th win with his overtime winner in a 4-3 defeat of the Nashville Predators. He also scored in regulation, along with Bonne Jenner’s brace.
  • Sven Baertschi had two goals, including a third-period game-tying goal that secured a point for the Canucks.
  • Richard Panik had two goals, including the game-winner to help the Coyotes beat Baertschi’s Canucks 4-3 in overtime.
  • Chris Tierney grabbed two goals in a 4-1 rout for the Senators against the Kings.

Highlights of the night

Factoids

Scores

Capitals 4, Bruins 2
Maple Leafs 4, Devils 2
Islanders 4, Rangers 3
Flyers 2, Stars 1
Blues Jackets 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Lightning 3, Hurricanes 1
Blues 4, Canadiens 1
Wild 3, Jets 2
Oilers 4, Panthers 3 (SO)
Coyotes 4, Canucks 3 (OT)
Senators 4, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck