SAINT PAUL, Minn. — St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo knows all about coaching playoff-critical games in Minnesota in March. He’s just never done it from the visitors’ bench before.
Just 13 months ago, Yeo was coaching the Minnesota Wild — the St. Louis Blues’ foe on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. Fired by Minnesota in mid-February last season, Yeo returns to his former workplace as the Blues’ head coach for the first time since taking over the job on Feb. 1 this season.
The Blues are in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but have been decidedly streaky, going 8-6-0 since Yeo started filling out the line charts. They won seven of their first eight after he took over, then struggled through a long losing streak but are coming off a 3-0 road win over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday in Denver.
“We’ve got to look to build off this,” Yeo said after the win in Colorado. “Obviously we’re going in to play a real good team and we’ve got to make sure we’re on top of our game. If we get that win, we’re really going somewhere.”
And the elder Yeo won’t be the only member of the family working at Xcel Energy Center this week. On Thursday his son Kyler, a high school senior, will play in the famed Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament for private school power Hill-Murray.
Before all that, the Wild will look to maintain their spot atop both the Central Division and the West. By beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Sunday, the Wild moved ahead of Chicago, which is idle until Thursday, for the division and conference leads.
With the Sharks leading the Pacific Division, Sunday’s contest had a definite air of playoff intensity and Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said his team played perhaps its best defensive game of the season, despite losing blue-liner Christian Folin departing with an upper-body injury in the first period and playing with five defenseman for most of the game.
The Wild announced Monday that Folin will miss a minimum of three weeks.
“I thought the responsibility from everybody was really good,” Boudreau said. “I know we want to play that way, especially getting in the habits. This was the way we were playing when we were in our (winning) streak and we got away from it a little bit.”
Offensively, the Wild are close to full strength, with linemates Zach Parise and Jason Pominville returning after being scratched due to a mumps scare in the Minnesota locker room. With those two back in the lineup, and with Martin Hanzal and Ryan White fully incorporated now after coming over in a trade with Arizona last week, Minnesota sent forward Tyler Graovac back to AHL’s Iowa on Monday.
Both teams are receiving solid goaltending of late. Jake Allen’s 27 saves in Colorado gave him his third shutout of the season and the 14th of his career. Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk got his 35th win of the season versus San Jose, two victories shy of the franchise’s single-season record for a goalie.
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