ST. PAUL, MN - Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo would like to make one thing abundantly clear: the Blues' first-round matchup against the Minnesota Wild - his former employer - won't be personal.
"I won't allow it to get personal because my team needs me to have the right mindset, to have the right focus, to have the right composure," Yeo said. "This is playoff hockey. There's something much more at stake, something way bigger in my eyes than a little revenge. It's the pursuit of winning the Stanley Cup. That's our focus.
"We have a real tough opponent and we have to be ready for that."
It's been only a few days since the Blues learned they would face Minnesota in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's already obvious that Yeo isn't cool with the storyline being "Yeo vs. the WIld.
It's the Blues vs. the Wild.
And it begins tonight with Game 1 (8:30 p.m. CT, FSMW, NBCSN, KMOX).
"I don't want (me) to be a story, I really don't," Yeo said. "My goal is not to beat the Minnesota Wild for me… It's not me against them. It's our group with a real tough opponent in the way of what we're trying to accomplish. We know we have a lot of work to do, but we believe that we're contenders in here. It's going to be quite a challenge but one we're looking forward to."
It's safe to say that Yeo knows the Wild very well. He spent more than four seasons as Minnesota's head coach, going 173-132-44 in the regular season and led Minnesota to three straight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances. He reached the second round in back-to-back seasons but was relieved of his duties in February 2016.
"As a player, as a coach, at any level, I'd never been traded and I'd never been fired. The emotions of what happened at that time, it was gut-wrenching to be perfectly honest," Yeo said. "…You literally put your heart and soul into it and it gets taken away from you. That's a tough thing to deal with. That was my first experience, but I believe that has made me a better coach. Looking back at it, I'm not disappointed that I went through it."
Video: Preview the Blues-Wild first-round series
WIth Bruce Boudreau behind Minnesota's bench for his first season, the Wild were one of the best teams in the League for the majority of the year. But in March, the club had an 11-game stretch in which it went 2-9 and finished 7-10-2 in the last 19 games. As a result, Minnesota fell to second in the Central Division, which led them to tonight's matchup with the Blues.
Lately though, it appears Minnesota might be finding their game after reeling off four straight wins to end the regular season.
The Blues won the season series between the teams, winning three of the five games, most recently a 2-1 victory on March 7 at Xcel Energy Center.
"They give every team trouble. They're a good team," said Kyle Brodziak, who played for the Wild from 2009-15. "They play structured game, they don't give up easy ice anywhere around the rink. When you're in the D-zone, you know you're going to be getting pressure. When you're in the offensive zone you know you're not going to have space. It's going to be a difficult game, a difficult series, and we're trying to do the same thing to them. That's the style of play we want to emulate. We don't want to give up any easy ice. I think for both teams it's going to be a difficult series."
"Each team is going to want to get to their game right away," said captain Alex Pietrangelo. "That sounds simple, but Game 1, you're trying to set the momentum for the rest of the series."
Video: Yeo before Game 1 at Minnesota