Minnesota-born skiing star Lindsey Vonn performed the ceremonial puck drop Sunday. Strangely, this was not to commemorate the Wild’s season sliding downhill. Such symbolism is no longer necessary.
On Feb. 17, the Wild lost 4-0 at home to St. Louis, the fourth loss during a five-game losing streak. That night, coach Bruce Boudreau bemoaned his team’s lack of competitiveness, then offered what at the time seemed a bizarre reminder.
Boudreau noted the 2012 Los Angeles Kings squeaked into the playoffs as an eighth seed and won the Stanley Cup. We kept waiting for the punch line, but it never came.
The Wild looked buried. And tired. And frustrated by not only this season, but years of playoff failures.
The GM was in the midst of trading away the youngish players Chuck Fletcher had built the franchise around. Paul Fenton was not inspiring much more confidence than the team he was fielding.
Combine lack of scoring, low morale, trade paranoia and key injuries and what do you get?
A winning streak.
The Wild entered Sunday having won five in a row since the five-game losing streak that prompted Boudreau’s Kings comment. Sunday, the Wild gave up a late goal, went to overtime and lost in the shootout, salvaging a point under tough circumstances — facing a good Nashville team less than 24 hours after winning at Calgary.
Give Boudreau credit for prescience. If not for a playoff berth and a Stanley Cup, at least for recognizing this team at its worst is still capable of getting hot.
Maybe it’s the nature of the sport. Certainly it’s the nature of this team, which has alternated hot and cold streaks ever since Mike Yeo was cutting his teeth behind the bench.
“This team has got a lot of heart,” Boudreau said, using a phrase that isn’t always true when spoken by coaches. “They want to win — they don’t want to be thought of as the team that didn’t make it.
“They’re giving it everything they have. We had some guys who played huge minutes last night and tonight.”
Sunday, the Wild fell behind in the first period, then rallied for two goals in the second to take a 2-1 lead.
You tell me which goal was more surprising: Eric Fehr’s … or Jason Zucker’s.
Or which got the louder cheers — the Wild goals, or the meteorologist between periods forecasting warmer temperatures next week.
Fehr scored on a breakaway off a blocked shot, beating Juuse Saros cleanly on a beautiful shot. Zucker’s goal was greasier and, to be fair, part of a trend. He has scored three goals in his past six games, and 17 total. He has time to salvage a previously disappointing season.
The Wild also welcomed back Mikael Granlund, whom Fenton traded to Nashville for Kevin Fiala. Everyone in the arena, including the Wild players, gave him a standing ovation. He responded by paying homage to his Minnesota days by not scoring a goal.
You do wonder about Wild fans. They spend all of their time complaining about a lack of playoff success while idolizing players who have failed to win playoffs.
But while the Timberwolves demonstrate virtually every winter what true dysfunction looks like, the Wild at least annually gives itself a puncher’s chance. Since the arrival of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild has been like water buoys. The team doesn’t have much upward mobility but isn’t going to sink, either.
Parise, Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Devan Dubnyk and Eric Staal give this team a chance to rebound even when it looked as horrid as it did for much of February.
The Wild has made the playoffs six consecutive seasons. As players have shown lately, and as Boudreau hinted, they might not be done yet.
“I thought our effort was great,, with the adversity that we faced in the last day here,” Suter said.
Will this group win a Cup? No. Will it collapse? Probably not while Boudreau is behind the bench.