The sun rose Wednesday, and it was instantly apparent the Wild’s season indeed ended hours earlier. There was no practice, no flight to Chicago, no team meal, no work to do to prepare for a Game 7 that could propel the franchise into the second conference final in Wild history.
The roller coaster of a season stopped suddenly when that puck off a partition found the blade of big-game star Patrick Kane.
“Our guys did everything that we asked and they laid it on the line, and that’s what hurts,” coach Mike Yeo said after the Wild’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Game 6. “That’s what’s hard.”
No doubt, the loss and season’s completion stung everybody involved. But after Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher decompress, they’ll prepare for next season.
Yes, Yeo. His contract expires with the rest of the coaching staff’s on June 30, but Yeo is expected to stay on. A conversation with Fletcher hadn’t occurred by Wednesday afternoon, but he is expected to meet with Yeo about a multiyear contract extension.
The Wild earned a lot of respect this postseason by upsetting Central Division champion Colorado and going toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
The team has a solid foundation. There’s a strong corps of leaders, demonstrated when Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter took charge during an off-day in Arizona in March when the season was on the precipice. They met with every player individually and subsequently held an all-hands-on-deck team meeting before the Wild reeled off a 6-0-1 run to save its season.
The youngsters performed admirably. Mikael Granlund had a breakthrough regular season and Nino Niederreiter a breakthrough postseason. Charlie Coyle was a thoroughbred down the stretch and in the first round before courageously playing with two separated shoulders in the second round. Erik Haula came of age this postseason, too.
Experienced but young defensemen Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon took their games to new levels, and despite season-long ups and downs, mobile blue-liner Jonas Brodin reminded us on Tuesday just how much the 20-year-old makes the Wild’s transition game motor.
Maybe the most impressive thing Yeo and his staff achieved this year was helping the Wild manage through a never-ending goaltending carousel.
The Wild had four goalies hold the No. 1 role at different times. Niklas Backstrom never was healthy, but Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov all performed solidly. The common denominator? All three were protected impressively by the players in front of them executing Yeo’s defensive structure and game plan.
There is no simple solution as to how to fix this goaltending quandary, so this must be priority No. 1 for Fletcher during an offseason that could be complicated.
As fun as it was to watch the Wild grow down the stretch, the same could be said for Yeo, the NHL’s youngest coach at age 40. Around Jan. 1, he appeared inches from the chopping block. But Yeo helped lift the Wild out of a six-game losing streak, going 14-4-2 during a juncture when in part Parise, Koivu, Spurgeon and Harding were all sidelined at the same time.
The Wild secured the top wild-card spot in the West, rallied from 0-2 and 2-3 deficits in the first round to beat Colorado and again tried to pull it off in the second round against Chicago after falling down 0-2.
“There were times where the wheels could’ve come off and [Yeo] kept it together,” Suter said Tuesday night.