The Wild is on the brink of a familiar fate, trailing 3 games to 1 in its opening round playoff series against the Jets with Game 5 set for Friday night in Winnipeg. The Jets are an excellent home team and have already established themselves as the better team vs. the Wild in both the regular season and playoffs. Las Vegas currently says you have to wager $230 on the Jets to win Game 5 just to win $100.
These are long odds, but not exactly surprising odds. The Wild has battled injuries all season, and just when it looked like the team might be getting as close to full strength as it had been in a long time late in the year, things went from bad to worse to worst when Ryan Suter and then Zach Parise were lost to significant injuries.
That’s 20 percent of the Wild’s salary cap sitting in street clothes — Suter for this whole series, Parise starting with a series-turning Game 4 victory for the Jets at Xcel Energy Center.
If this turns out to be the season-ending game — that’s still an if, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get a jump on the narrative — I will be very interested to see how the season is defined by Wild fans, players, coaches, front office folks and especially owner Craig Leipold.
Leipold, after all, told reporters shortly before the start of the season, “Anything short of winning the Stanley Cup would be a disappointment. Probably 30 other owners would say the same thing. I think we have a team that can do it.”
Of course, Leipold also said this at the time: “This window is wide open for us. We’ve got some players that are hitting their prime, and some young guys coming up we all talk about all the time. The window is not closing.”
That sounds like an owner who expected big things this season, but also an owner who might be willing to take a big-picture view of another successful regular season washed away.
Folks on Twitter don’t quite seem to be as forgiving. I started a poll this morning asking if the Wild should get a free pass because of injuries, and close to three-fourths of you said no. Then again, Twitter tends to be a little more negative than the space inside Xcel Energy Center or the cozy homes of the east metro.
Will you give the Wild a free pass if they are eliminated tonight because of all the injuries this season?
— RandBall (@RandBall) April 20, 2018
Some of you pointed out the question of how to view the Wild is a little more nuanced than just “yes” or “no,” and that’s probably where the truth exists. You can think the Wild deserves at least a little break for this year’s playoff performance while also making a strong case that even with everyone healthy this team’s fate very well could have been the same: No. 3 in the division, first-round loss to Winnipeg.
And either way, anything short of a three-game Wild winning streak means a sixth consecutive season will end with a playoff defeat in the first or second round (including each of the last three in the first). Many of the same players have had a hand in all or most of those defeats, and Chuck Fletcher’s decisions as GM have left room for questions but not much room for change.
The Wild can still change the narrative, of course. Fifteen years ago Minnesota had no business rallying from 3-1 down to beat Colorado and doing the same against Vancouver, but that’s exactly what the Wild did.
Fair or not, the temperature of the fan base suggests that advancing at least to the conference finals — either with an improbable comeback this year or the same core next year — is pretty much the only way everyone associated with the team will be able to exhale and say, “See, this wasn’t all just a pleasant fool’s errand.”