In the final minute of a critical Game 5 against Chicago, trailing by a goal, these were the six Wild skaters on the ice trying to tie the game:
Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Dany Heatley, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.
Of all the critiques that head coach Mike Yeo has faced in his tenure with the Wild -- a good number of which have been diminished with a strong playoff showing so far -- his reliance on veterans, to a fault, remains valid.
We understand that top skaters like Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund were gassed after a long stint early in the empty-net situation. But we also know this: the Wild's best line over the course of Games 4 and 5, in terms of on-puck tenacity, was the third line -- Erik Haula, Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine.
Haula accounted for the Wild's only goal in Game 5, and it could be argued he has been their most dangerous forward throughout the playoffs (some of that has to do with matchups, to be sure, but some of it also has to do with his speed and emergence).
Heatley on the ice? We get that, to a degree. He's had a lot of good shifts in the playoffs, and he remains dangerous from close-range, where it has more to do with hands than legs. Brodziak? Yeo explained that he's a right-shot center, something Yeo wanted on the ice. And as Michael Russo wrote:
(The) Wild may not even be in this series without Heatley to Brodziak to Niederreiter.
True. But if there is one minute to score, and our choice is between Brodziak and Haula, there is no contest. One has redeemed himself from bad mistakes with some timely plays. The other has emerged as a legitimate threat to make a play every time he has the puck and a little space.
Russo also notes the final alignment isn't the reason the Wild lost. We'll agree with that, since Chicago dictated so much of the play in the final 40 minutes after a strong Wild start. Still, it would have been nice to find out if a more dynamic group at the end could have sent it to overtime and given the Wild a chance to steal a mighty big game.