The Wild lacks the natural scorers it needs to beat the elite.
CHICAGO – Jason Pominville fired a bad-angle shot that caromed off Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford onto the waiting stick of Mikko Koivu out front.
The maligned Wild captain had the right side of the net open. He had Crawford in a bind, an ideal scenario for Koivu to finally register a point in this series and give his team an early lead in a do-or-die Game 5.
He missed his mark. Badly.
Koivu ripped a clean shot squarely into Crawford’s blocker pads for a wasted chance that pretty much summed up the Wild’s hasty exit from the playoffs with a resounding 5-1 loss Thursday night at United Center.
The Wild played hard and had chances, but scoring goals trumps everything else and the Wild failed miserably at that.
“We had chances but at the end, that doesn’t matter,” Koivu said. “The difference is, you put the puck in the net or you don’t.”
An offseason that could bring significant changes inside the organization begins immediately and determining coach Mike Yeo’s future ranks at the top of list. Whatever ownership decides on that question, the team must identify ways to add some scoring pop to this grind-it-out lineup. Fixing that deficiency should be a primary objective this offseason.
The Wild managed only seven goals in five playoff games and was more than doubled up in goal production by the highly skilled Blackhawks. In fairness, Chicago allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season and really knows how to tighten the screws defensively when needed.
But the Wild simply lacks enough firepower up-and-down its roster to be considered a legitimate threat in the playoffs. Team officials are kidding themselves if they believe otherwise.
“You’re not going to go very far here if you don’t put [shots] in when you get the opportunities,” Zach Parise said. “That was kind of the common theme for us throughout these losses. We just couldn’t bury the puck.”
The Blackhawks admittedly played below their capability the first four games and they still dispatched the Wild with relative ease. Why? Because the Wild struggles to score goals, which was more problematic in this series than its revolving door at goaltender.
Wild coaches and players love to talk about scoring chances, as if that’s some ultimate testament in evaluating a performance. Scoring chances are relevant, but they are a moot point if some don’t actually get past the goalie.
The Wild needs finishers more than guys who just create chances. Think about it. Other than Parise, who on this roster can be counted on as a reliable scorer? Dany Heatley is a sniper, but he finished the season injured and is not getting any younger. Devin Setoguchi looks like a natural goal scorer at times, but he also disappears for stretches. The Wild has some talented young players, but they’re unproven.
Every team talks about getting more scorers. Those guys aren’t easy to find. But what the Wild lacks is overall team speed and some muscle up front, guys who can score those dirty goals around the crease.
Yeo preaches defense and believes offense is generated from a sound, structured system. That’s all well and good, but this team could use a few closers, too.
The Wild finished last in the NHL in scoring two seasons ago. The team improved to 22nd this season, but it entered Thursday’s game with the lowest scoring average of all 16 teams in these playoffs.
In Game 4, the Wild attempted 68 shots without scoring goal, which still seems implausible. The Wild managed some good chances early in Game 5, too, but still trailed 1-0 at the intermission. The reason? The Hawks buried their best chance and Koivu missed his.
Late in the period, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews found Marian Hossa in the slot and the veteran rifled a shot past Josh Harding. The Blackhawks’ sequence looked so clinical. Pass, shot, goal.
The Wild should take notes. Or find someone capable of making those kinds of plays.
Chip Scoggins • email@example.com
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