Fourteen months after being fired by the Wild, Mike Yeo finally got to shake hands with many of his former players.
Unfortunately for the Wild, Yeo was doing so while standing on Xcel Energy Center’s ice after advancing to the second round of the playoffs as coach of the St. Louis Blues.
The Wild didn’t go quietly Saturday afternoon, but few will remember the Wild’s franchise-best regular season now that the team couldn’t even get past Game 5 of the first round.
Once again, the effort was there, and other than the first 10 ½ minutes, so was the better play. But in the end, the Wild couldn’t complete a third-period comeback from two goals down, losing 4-3 in a season-eliminating overtime.
“What is this, five years in a row? I’m sick of it,” said center Erik Haula, who was elevated when Eric Staal sustained a scary-looking head injury in the second period. “We’re all sick of it.”
A team with Stanley Cup aspirations, one that went 30-6-3 during a three-month stretch, got career-best seasons from several players and scored a franchise-record 266 goals, ended the season with a thud against its former coach, scoring eight goals in the entire series, four at 5-on-5.
The Blues move on to face Nashville. The Wild players head their separate ways. How about that for Minnesota karma?
“It’s tough to handle, really. None of us expected this,” winger Zach Parise said. “It’s going to be a long offseason for sure. We tried to get our way back into the series, but when you’re down 3-nothing in the series, you’re really asking a lot, not that we quit.
“We never quit, we tried, we played hard all the way ’til the end, but right now it’s just a disappointing group of players.”
After Mikko Koivu’s power-play goal and Jason Zucker’s patient dart to the net with 5:01 left forced overtime in a third period in which the Wild had one disallowed goal and arguably could have scored more, Vladimir Sobotka walked off the wall past defending Martin Hanzal, skated past Parise and set up Magnus Paajarvi for the winner 9:42 into overtime.
The goal came right after Parise overskated a Charlie Coyle rebound at the other end, emblematic of a series full of missed opportunities.
“To play the way that we played, I felt like we deserved better, but obviously, the results weren’t there,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It’s a game of results.”
Added coach Bruce Boudreau, “They weren’t the better team, but they won four games.”
The Wild got off to a terrible start, and Vladimir Tarasenko, with his first goal of the series, and Alex Steen made Minnesota pay. But Suter pulled the Wild within one on a power-play goal late in the first period.
The Wild dominated play in the second, but stubborn Jake Allen looked like the Allen of Games 1-3 with 13 of his 34 saves.
With the Wild down 2-1 early in the third, Matt Dumba took a careless tripping penalty to negate a Minnesota power play 12 seconds in. The instant Dumba stepped out of the box, Paul Stastny made it 3-1.
The Wild thought it cut the deficit to 3-2 when Hanzal scored a bank shot from behind the goal line. But referee Francis Charron ruled that Nino Niederreiter inhibited Allen’s ability to make the save. Replays appeared to show Jori Lehtera cross-checking Niederreiter into Allen, but Charron didn’t reverse his call after Boudreau challenged.
“I’d certainly like an explanation because like [assistant coach Scott Stevens] said in the room, ‘We’re going to start teaching our defensemen to instead of box out, box in,’ ” Boudreau said.
Despite that adversity, despite losing Staal, its No. 1 center, after he crashed headfirst into the boards in the second period and was taken to a hospital for observation, the Wild kept pushing and found a way to OT.
“They never quit all year. When things were going bad, they still never quit, they kept pushing,” Boudreau said.
Still, after fighting all season for home-ice advantage, the Wild went 0-3 at home in the series.
Its top three goal scorers in the regular season — Staal, Mikael Granlund and Niederreiter — didn’t convert. After feeling this was their year, players looked bewildered and were in no mood to look back on a 49-win, 106-point season.
“Usually you remember what you last saw so, unfortunately you’re going to remember getting knocked out in five games,” Parise said.
There was no last laugh from Yeo either.
“Everybody there is first class,” Yeo said of his old team. “They had an unbelievable year and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Even the way they fought the whole way through, I know that they’re not satisfied, but they’ve done great things this year and I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other some more.”