For the Wild, facing the Chicago Blackhawks has to feel like that scene from the movie “The Replacements” where a player talks about his biggest fear.
“You’re playing and you think everything is going fine, but then one thing goes wrong and then another and another, and you try to fight back. But the harder you fight, the deeper you sink until you can’t move, you can’t breathe because you’re in over your head … like quicksand.”
For a third consecutive season, the Wild ran into the Blackhawks in the playoffs. For the third consecutive season, the Wild’s offseason has officially begun thanks to the Blackhawks proving they’re the better team.
Two years after taking Chicago to five games, one year after taking Chicago to six games, the Wild took a step back and was swept Thursday night when the Blackhawks won 4-3 to end the Wild’s season quicker than anybody could have imagined.
“It’s not fun. We got swept. We didn’t do nearly enough,” said Wild scoring leader Zach Parise. “Just disappointing.”
“Feel sick. Doesn’t feel right,” added goalie Devan Dubnyk. “To be with the group that we have, to finish it that way, it just doesn’t feel right.”
In the day leading up to Game 4, coach Mike Yeo noted his team had come back from the dead before this season. After all, this was a team that went an NHL-best 28-9-3 in the final 40 games of the regular season after acquiring Dubnyk.
But the Wild, which didn’t lead at any moment of the series, couldn’t find a way to solve Corey Crawford until it was too late Thursday.
He had 34 saves before Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter scored with an extra attacker, but that was after Marian Hossa’s shorthanded empty- netter gave Chicago a 4-1 lead. Niederreiter’s goal with 1:27 left made it 4-3, but the Wild couldn’t get the tying goal despite a frenzied attack where Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter shots slid just wide of the net.
“We couldn’t score goals,” Suter said. “That was the good thing about the St. Louis [first-round] series. We were able to score first a lot of the games and we’re a good team when we do.”
Added Parise: “We had a good first round. [This round], just nothing.”
Crawford, 12-3 against the Wild in three postseasons, outperformed Dubnyk, but the Wild lost the series because it scored seven goals — one combined in Games 2 and 3.
“Their attention to detail was good, they defended hard and made it tough on us,” Pominville said. “And we had a tough time solving the goaltender.”
Koivu, Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle were shut out in the series and Parise, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Pominville and Niederreiter scored once each.
“I tried staying positive because I knew I just needed one to get me going,” Vanek said. “I didn’t find that one and that’s on me. I let them down.”
In contrast, Patrick Kane scored five times in the series, his last coming with 6:40 left to give Chicago a 3-1 lead after Erik Haula cut a 2-0 deficit in half in the second period.
The Wild was outscored 11-3 in the first period in the playoffs and didn’t score a first-period goal in this series. There will be lots of what-ifs to dissect.
“We were chasing every game,” Yeo said.
The season included injury, the mumps, bad goaltending and heartache to Parise and Suter after the deaths of their fathers. It included dreadful winter weeks and what seemed like a certain postseason absence.
But on Jan. 14, the Wild acquired Dubnyk and went from a 12th-place team to a playoff team. In the 40 games after, the Wild gave up a league-low 71 goals and had league’s best goal differential of plus-45.
In the first round, the Wild upset the Central Division champion for a second consecutive season. But it then once again ran into the Blackhawks.
“You always remember what last happened,” Parise said. “Unfortunately we’re here after losing four straight.”
Added Yeo, “Right now we’re a good team and we have to find a way to be the best team.”
Players were despondent.
“I really thought we had something special going,” Vanek said. “We have a lot of character in here and had a great run. Obviously that’s not the way we wanted to end it.”
Added Dubnyk: “This was a special year and a special group. It just doesn’t feel right that we’re done playing now.”