Coaching changes can be the tonic for an underachieving team. The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings switched coaches during the season and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Minnesota Wild had lost 13 of 14 games (1-11-2) when they changed coaches in mid-February, replacing Mike Yeo with John Torchetti, who was running their American Hockey League affiliate. Torchetti's resume includes a Stanley Cup as an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. With Torchetti behind the bench the Wild went from a team that had lost its way to one that will win the Cup for the first time.
The Wild have all the parts a Cup-winning team needs: solid goaltending, a deep defense that can move the puck quickly and a balanced group of forwards. They were five points out of the final playoff spot before the coaching change; under Torchetti they've come together in time to get back into the playoffs.
The offense awakened under Torchetti. The Wild were averaging 2.46 goals per game before the coaching change; after his arrival they averaged 2.86 per game. That's the kind of attack that wins championships.
Nor are they a one-line team. Zach Parise was the only player to score 25 goals but 11 reached double figures, giving the Wild the kind of balance that will prevent playoff opponents from ganging up on one line.
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That balance also could be important because Parise's status for Game 1 of the postseason is in question after he missed the final game of the regular season because of an undisclosed injury.
An important boost to the offense has come from center Charlie Coyle, who scored 20 goals for the first time and set NHL career-bests in goals (21) and points (42).
Another player having a career season is Ryan Suter, the leader of the defense. He set personal NHL-bests with 43 assists and 51 points and tied his high with eight goals, and he was a plus-10 while averaging 28:35 of ice time per game, second-most in the League. Two other defensemen, Jared Spurgeon (11) and Matt Dumba (10) reached double figures in goals.
Led by their defense, the Wild limited opponents to 28.6 shots per game, seventh-fewest in the League. The unit with be another big factor in their run to the Cup.
The offensive improvement coincided with a return to form by goaltender Devan Dubnyk, whose outstanding play after being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes fueled the Wild's second-half hot streak last season.
That earned him a six-year contract, but it wasn't until the coaching change that he found regained last season's form. Dubnyk ended a personal nine-game losing streak (0-8-1) with a victory in Torchetti's debut. He went 14-7-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 24 games after the coaching change. He will make the big saves every Cup-winning team needs.
This is the third straight season the Wild have followed a middling start with a fast finish that earned them a playoff berth. The first two came under Yeo, who got the Wild to the second round last season. With Torchetti now behind the bench leading a talented roster, the Wild will put all the ingredients together and bring the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey for the first time.