Blues' coach Mike Yeo will be going up against the team that fired him 14 months ago as the Blues play the Wild in the first round of the playoffs. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

Mike Yeo understands that it’s going to be one of the biggest storylines of the first-round playoff series between the Blues and the Minnesota Wild, his return to face the team which fired him 14 months ago.

The fact that Yeo knows that, and is prepared for it, won’t make it any easier, however.

Yeo still has deep roots in Minnesota, where he was the head coach of the Wild for five years. His family remained in the Minneapolis area this year, even after he was hired by the Blues last summer as an assistant coach and then elevated to the head coaching job when Ken Hitchcock was fired on Feb. 1.

At that time, it didn’t look like the Blues would have to be concerned about facing anybody in the playoffs, but the team had a dramatic turnaround after Yeo took over.

The win on Sunday night in the final game of the regular season left the Blues with a 22-8-2 record under Yeo, the third best mark over that span in the NHL. They were 18th in the league when the team made the coaching change, three games above .500.

The Blues finished the regular season with a 15-2-2 record in their final 19 games, clinching third place in the Central Division and the slot against the Wild on Saturday night.

The best-of-seven series will open Wednesday night in Minnesota.

“I don’t want it to be a story, I really don’t,” Yeo said about his return. “My goal is not to beat the Minnesota Wild for me. My goal is to beat the Minnesota Wild for us as a group to keep getting better and see what we’re capable of.”

Yeo does not believe it is an advantage for him to know the Wild as well as he does from his tenure with the team, knowing many things have changed since he left. The Wild also know him well, he said.

“Maybe it helps them, maybe it helps us,” he said. “They know the way I like the game to be played and how I adjust and the way I prepare a team. That could be a benefit to them. I also think it could be a benefit for us. We’ve got a good sense having playing them five times this year and watching them all year some of the changes there. Some things are still the same. I feel like it helps.

“Even if I didn’t have that inside knowledge we would have a really good sense as far as the players and their system.

“We all knew I was a possibility. We wanted to finish third and we knew if we finished third who we would be facing.”

The Blues chances of winning might have received a major boost in the last few days of the regular season with the addition of Vladimir Sobotka to the roster. He rejoined the team after spending the last three years playing in the KHL in Russia.

The Blues had retained his rights and re-signed him on Friday. He made his debut on Sunday night, scoring his first goal in the NHL in three years.

Yeo knows it is unusual to add a player with Sobotka’s experience and skill just days before the playoffs.

“There was no wishful thinking on our part that any help was going to arrive, and obviously now that it has, we’re pleased to have him,” Yeo said. “We believe he’s coming in here to be an impactful player in all areas of our game.”

The Blues lost to the Wild in the first round of the playoffs two years ago, when Yeo was the coach. Last year, the knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round en route to making a run to the Western Conference final, where they lost to the San Jose Sharks.

For the Blues to go that far, or farther, this year, Yeo knows will take a group effort. The team will be led by Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored his 39th goal of the year Sunday night, but the Blues can’t be a one-man show, Yeo said.

“If we just sit here and hope that Vladi’s going to win the series for us, that’s not going to happen,” Yeo said. “It’s going to be a real tough challenge for Vladi; they are going to key on him. It’s going to have to be by committee. Somebody else is going to have to step up. We need every guy ready to play at their best, that’s what we’ve done here for a long time.

“Vladi’s going to do what Vladi does when he gets an opportunity. But we’re going to do this as a group or not do it as a group, it’s as simple as that.”