In the end, the team that lived on the edge and always found a way to wiggle out of jams couldn’t escape one last difficult spot.
In the end, the team that never found any situation too bleak stood in stunned silence, along with its fans. They couldn’t believe that a fabulous display of hockey, and a captivating postseason run, could end like this.
A routine dump-in, a weird bounce, a backhand by Patrick Kane, and that was it.
And then came a brief roar of approval from 19,000 fans who showed their gratitude for a team that refused to go quietly and for a playoff run that delivered some terrific moments.
The Wild’s season ended on Kane’s overtime goal in Game 6 on Tuesday night, giving the Chicago Blackhawks a 2-1 victory and a 4-2 series win in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Wild lost the series, but this entire postseason represents a significant step for an organization that has reshaped itself the past two years.
“This is a special group,” an emotional Mike Yeo said afterward.
Pressed into a tight spot once again, the Wild poured everything into this elimination game and showed what desperation hockey looks and feels like.
It’s Matt Cooke diving over a defender to retrieve a puck along the boards.
It’s Erik Haula sprinting down center ice as if he has a jet pack attacked to his back.
It’s Ilya Bryzgalov remaining calm as Patrick Sharp bears down on yet another breakaway.
It’s Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise and Jason Pominville generating scoring chance after scoring chance.
It’s Ryan Suter continuing to battle despite dealing with an arm injury that clearly affected his play.
It’s Mikko Koivu hustling on backchecks and wrestling on the ice for loose pucks.
And so much more.
“Our guys did everything we asked,” Yeo said. “That’s why it hurts.”
Ultimately, the Wild lost to a highly skilled team blessed with playoff savvy and experience. No shame in that.
This Wild team gave our sports market something it sorely needed. It re-introduced us to something called the postseason and reminded us how much fun that can be, the way it energizes a city and connects diehards and casual fans alike.
We needed this. We needed to experience the thrill and tension of an extended playoff run with its highs and lows. It’s been entirely too long around here.
Game 6 captured all those emotions, and the second period in particular showcased hockey at its best. The teams traded breakaways and odd-man rushes and bang-bang scoring chances. The pace and action were exhilarating.
The overtime period felt like 19,000 fans collectively holding their breath. Until Kane’s winner brought Xcel Energy Center to sudden silence.
“It can’t get any worse than losing like that,” Parise said. “You shouldn’t lose like that.”
Once the sting wears off, the Wild should feel encouraged that it went nose-to-nose with the defending champions and wasn’t outclassed. Yes, the Blackhawks won the series 4-2, but the Wild didn’t look out of its league. Unlike last year, the Wild belonged on the ice. The Blackhawks had to earn their win this time.
“I feel like we’re just as good as anybody,” Parise said.
This postseason run demonstrated that the Wild organization is on the right path and can become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders next season and beyond if it addresses its goaltending situation in a meaningful way and makes a few roster tweaks this offseason.
The emergence of a core group of youngsters gives hope that this team can continue its steady climb toward a championship level.
The fast-track development of Haula, Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Marco Scandella should be a key takeaway from this postseason.
The Wild’s future looks even brighter based on how those guys handled the big stage. They didn’t look overmatched or overwhelmed. They didn’t just dip their toes in the water. They went in headfirst, unafraid of failure or the pressure of playoff hockey.
The ending proved disappointing, but the Wild should leave for summer vacation with no regrets.
The team won one series and put up a worthy fight against the defending champions. Young players emerged, and the team dug itself out of a few difficult spots.
All in all, that should be viewed as a success and something to build upon going forward.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org