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No team in the ultra-competitive Western Conference has made the playoffs more times in a row than the Minnesota Wild [url=http://www.vikingscheapstore.com/brian-robison-jersey-cheap]Brian Robison Jersey[/url] , with six straight appearances to share the current streak lead with the Anaheim Ducks.
That regular season consistency has only led, however, to April dissatisfaction. Ousted in five games by Winnipeg in their first-round series, the Wild were sent again to an early exit from the Stanley Cup tournament. They were shut out by the Jets in the last two contests and finished with a scoreless streak of 141:47.
”It’s really disappointing. I don’t think that’s indicative of the kind of team that we have. It was just a really tough night,” center Matt Cullen said after the 5-0 loss in Winnipeg on Friday. ”Obviously with our backs against the wall, I think we all expected more and hoped for more, and I think if we could do it all over again every guy would like to give more.”
There was no shame in being beaten by the Jets, a deeper, faster team with an exceptional goalie in Connor Hellebuyck that finished with the second-best record in the NHL in 2017-18. For the Wild, though, there’s an overarching theme of staying stuck at a good-but-not-great level since the franchise-altering signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter helped start this remarkable-but-unfulfilling run of making the playoffs every year with the two stars on the roster.
”We want more. We expect more from ourselves. We let another one slip away,” right wing Charlie Coyle said.
Here are some key angles to the end of the Wild’s season:
The Wild are 2-6 in series and 15-29 in games in the postseason during the Parise-Suter era that began on July 4, 2012. The 17-year-old franchise’s only advancement past the second round remains the 2003 surge to the Western Conference finals, where the Wild were swept by the Ducks.
The postseason trouble encountered by the Wild used to be in the form of the Chicago Blackhawks, who eliminated them in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in the first and third of those years. They lost in the first round in 2016 and 2017, though, and failed to make the playoffs this spring for the first time in 10 years. So Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are no longer the problem.
Now Nashville and Winnipeg have taken the lead in the daunting Central Division, with the Predators taking the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record one season after reaching the Stanley Cup finals. Six of the seven teams made the playoffs either last year or this year.
”We certainly believed that we could give these guys a real run for it even though nobody seemed to be giving us a chance,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. ”We’re one play away each game. I know that’s easy to say [url=http://www.patriotscheapstore.com/sony-michel-jersey-cheap]Sony Michel Jersey[/url] , but it’s really how close it was besides tonight.”
This year, in fairness, one of the hurdles to postseason success became the rare absence of Suter, who has long been one of the NHL’s most durable players as a puck-moving, tough-minded defenseman. His broken ankle diluted the blue line in the final week of the regular season.
Then Parise, whose late-season surge signaled he was all the way back from the back injury and surgery that kept him out for the first 39 games, was knocked out of action with a broken sternum suffered in Game 3 against the Jets.
”Every team has injuries, right?” captain Mikko Koivu said, adding: ”For sure that hurts, there’s no question about that. But we can’t go behind that.”
Matt Cullen, after winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, put off retirement for another year and returned to his home-state team with 11 goals, 11 assists and valuable leadership at age 41. He wasn’t ready to address his future after Game 5.
”My only thought here the last while was getting it back home for Game 6,” Cullen said. ”So to be honest I don’t have an answer right now.”
Not every forward will be productive in a playoff series, of course, but the Wild were hurting without any goals or assists by three of their top-nine forwards: Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker. Coyle, who had only 11 goals during the regular season, was especially ineffective against the Jets.
”Had plenty of chances to finish. I didn’t finish. Or the goalie came up big,” Coyle said. ”Whatever it is I didn’t get the job done. That hurts.”
When longtime coordinators move from one defense to another [url=http://www.buccaneerscheapstore.com/cameron-brate-jersey-cheap]Cameron Brate Jersey[/url] , it’s noteworthy.
There were several such transfers for this season, including former head coaches Romeo Crennel, back to Houston, and Mike Pettine, now in Green Bay. Dean Pees, as successful as nearly any assistant coach over the past two decades, landed in Tennessee.
Here are six intriguing new defensive coordinators:
Romeo Crennel, Houston – If there was a Hall of Fame for coordinators, Crennel would have the credentials for first-ballot entry.
He replaces new Titans coach Mike Vrabel in a job Crennel held from 2014-16, pretty much when J.J. Watt was becoming the best player in the league. Crennel inherits a unit that fell apart with Watt and Whitney Mercilus injured and little help from the offense when Deshaun Watson wasn’t available.
But the talent is there, particularly if Watt is healthy and back to form, teaming with Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney and newcomer Tyrann Mathieu. Crennel seems the right guy to turn those ingredients into a tasty dish.
”I don’t think you forget what it takes and what you need to do,” Crennel said. ”It’s all about evaluating, motivating and trying to put a good plan together and get the guys to execute and play it.”
Dean Pees, Tennessee – Pees actually does replace a Hall of Famer, though Dick LeBeau made the Canton shrine for his playing career, not his incredible success as a coordinator.
Pees has been around, too [url=http://www.dolphinscheapstore.com/ja_wuan-james-jersey-cheap]Ja'Wuan James Jersey[/url] , coaching since 1979 and about to turn 69. He’s won Super Bowls with the Patriots and Ravens, takes over a group that can stop the run, but needs to be much more stingy against the pass. If Watson and Andrew Luck are healthy, that adds to the challenge for Pees.
At least Tennessee added CB Malcolm Butler and DT Bennie Logan, plus a pair of linebackers early in the draft. This group will be aggressive and the Titans come off a playoff appearance, so expectations are raised.
”Just having two legends as coaches on the defense, man, I was blessed,” All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said.
Mike Pettine, Green Bay – The Packers need an aggressive scheme on D to match the Aaron Rodgers approach with the ball. Pettine surely will pick up the tempo and take more chances than Dom Capers did.
Whether he has the talent on that side of the ball is another matter. The Packers almost seemed in desperation mode when they re-signed Davon House and Tramon Williams for the secondary.
If Muhammad Wilkerson gets his mojo back after signing, then not living up to his big contract with the Jets, Pettine might upgrade a defense that finished 26th in points allowed.
”In the new defense we’re getting ready to hit this season strong,” star linebacker Clay Matthews said, ”and hold up our end of the bargain.”
Ken Norton Jr., Seattle – Norton spent five seasons working under Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, handling linebackers and overseeing the rapid development of Bobby Wagner into an All-Pro.
The Legion of Boom has been torn asunder, though, and there are serious questions where a pass rush will come from. Norton must find the answers as Seattle goes through roster upheaval, a difficult chore.
But he does have Wagner, Frank Clark and K.J. Wright.
”We went through a lot those first three years and obviously I paid close attention when he left and we stayed in touch [url=http://www.chargerscheapstore.com/hunter-henry-jersey-cheap]Hunter Henry Jersey[/url] ,” Wagner said. ”When I heard he was coming back I had a lot of joy and a lot of excitement because I felt like we had a little bit of unfinished business. It’s good to have him back …”
James Bettcher, New York Giants – Bettcher replaces a popular coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, who was doomed by replacing the fired Ben McAdoo in December and not seeing any improvement from the Giants. Like Spags, Bettcher is a go-get-’em type who did a lot with under-the-radar defenders in Arizona.
Gone is inconsistent sack master Jason Pierre-Paul, but Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison remain up front, with the linebackers getting a boost thanks to adding Alex Ogletree. If Bettcher can help the secondary get stingier, he will have done a good job.
”What it is about is playing relentless,” Bettcher said. ”The game is about playing hard. The game is about playing physical. The game is about playing smart.
Paul Guenther, Raiders – If Guenther can simply keep up with Jon Gruden’s nonstop enthusiasm, he will have performed well.
He must find a pass rush – it doesn’t hurt having Khalil Mack on hand – and better coverage in the secondary, which has struggled for years. He’s working with a few journeymen who can’t be expected to make a huge impact.
Gruden figures to get the offense rolling, so Oakland’s fortunes could rest on Guenther’s work.
”Paul Guenther’s defense, it’s very aggressive,” said new middle linebacker Derrick Johnson, the veteran who came over from the Chiefs. ”So many different looks. The onus is really on the linebackers to learn a lot of stuff.”
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