CHICAGO – Wild coach Mike Yeo didn’t exactly channel Yogi Berra, but he came close.
Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Late Sunday night, after the Wild had allowed Game 5 to slip away 2-1 to the Blackhawks, Yeo said, “We’re in familiar territory again.”
These playoffs have become the Department of Redundancy Department. For the second consecutive series, the Wild lost a Game 5 on the road and faces a win-or-stay-home Game 6 at Xcel Energy Center. The opponents, Colorado and Chicago, are far different in pedigree. The feelings are nevertheless the same.
To know what was happening early Sunday night at United Center, you didn’t need HD TV or a 300-page pamphlet on how to figure out whether the NHL playoffs were being broadcast on CNBC, MSNBC, BBC or the Food Network. (Breaking news: Next year the playoffs will be seen on Uncle Luke’s Cable Access in Tupelo, Miss.)
All you had to do was listen.
In the first period, the fans whistled, signifying their boredom with the home team.
At the end of the first period, the fans booed the defending Stanley Cup champ off the ice, loudly enough that the folks who run the United Center turned up the organ music to cover the jeers.
By the end of the third, the Madhouse on Madison was raucous again, and the silence had emigrated to the visitor’s locker room.
You know what happens after a team loses a lead to lose a Game 5 on the road.
Talking heads will tell you that the loss is devastating. That the victor in that game is bound to be the victor in the series. Both might be statements of probability. Neither is a statement of fact.
The talking heads will also tell you the Blackhawks pose a sterner test than Colorado. That sounds true, but in reality the Wild has dominated long stretches of both series.
While the Blackhawks held serve, the Wild threatened Chicago enough to silence a usually boisterous crowd.
While the Blackhawks have been here before, in terms of winning a playoff series, the Wild have been here before in this postseason — losing in Game 5 on the road when it had a chance to win.
After the Game 5 loss in Colorado, the Wild immediately began talking about how it had to win only one road game to win the series. That sounded like arrogance, because Minnesota would have to win Game 6 to even force a Game 7, but it proved prophetic.
Game 5 was not Chicago teaching the Minnesota pups a lesson. It was a typical playoff loss, one decided by posts hit and missed, by a deflection, and by a home team belatedly responding with desperation.
“We played well in the first, they played well in the second, and it was a sword fight in the third,” Wild forward Erik Haula said.
Haula as much as anyone prompted the whistles and boos. In the first period, he picked up the puck in the Wild zone, then blew past Patrick “Showtime” Kane, probable Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, standout defenseman Brent Seabrook and the goalie who won the Cup last year, Corey Crawford. Haula’s end-to-end goal was both pretty and gritty, as he tapped in his own rebound to make it 1-0.
After being booed off the ice, the Blackhawks took control of the game in the second period. They tied it on Bryan Bickell’s power-play deflection, and in the third period, the Blackhawks scored the winner on Jonathan Toews’ goal with 15:27 remaining.
The game ended with the Wild playing 6-on-5, then locked in skirmishes all over the ice.
Forget the clichés about Games 5. This wasn’t the deciding game, or even the pivotal game. If the Wild loses in six, it didn’t deserve to win the series. If the Wild wins Game 6, then the first pivotal game of the series will be played Thursday at United Center.
That would be familiar territory, again.
That would be something to hear.