The Wild's season ended with a thud, its power play stifled and the Ducks having their way on offense.
ANAHEIM, CALIF. - Talk about anticlimactic.
After seven months of hard work and a record 104-point season, Wild players didn't even have time to grow a playoff beard.
It was more like a playoff stubble.
"Wild Fever" lasted all of eight days as the dejected team was brusquely sent packing for the summer Thursday night when the bigger, stronger Anaheim Ducks closed out the Western Conference Finals in five games with a dominating 4-1 win at the Honda Center.
"If you're any type of athlete and you're satisfied just making the playoffs, you're a bit of a loser," said veteran Wes Walz, an Original Wild player who at age 36 could have played his last game with Minnesota because he's a free agent this summer. "You play the game to win championships."
Carryover from an ugly ending to Game 4 began even before Game 5 started when both teams converged at center ice during warm-ups for a heated exchange, which included Derek Boogaard and George Parros trading pushes and Mark Parrish getting punched twice in the melon by Shawn Thornton.
But, when the Wild looks back at this series over the next several sleepless nights, it'll lament its power play, which failed time and time again en route to this early holiday.
Thursday's sorry power play performance was a new low and cost the Wild at least a chance to force a Game 6 back in Minnesota on Saturday.
Trailing 1-0 -- only because of the marvelous play of goaltender Niklas Backstrom -- the Wild was given a magnificent chance to rally in the second period when it drew a double minor, with a two-minute 5-on-3 smacked in between.
The Wild didn't come close to scoring, wound up going 0 for 5 in the game and finished the series 2 for 27 on the power play.
"Same old thing," left wing Brian Rolston said. "We didn't score a power-play goal tonight. That's the difference in the game. That's the difference in the series, really."
Fittingly, Anaheim's winner came on Ryan Getzlaf's power play goal, the Ducks' fifth of the series, 47 seconds after Marian Gaborik tied the game with a shorthanded goal.
The Wild displayed again why it would vote at the next Board of Governors meeting for the chance to decline power plays, at least the ones on the road.
Chris Pronger scored 62 seconds into the game, but the Wild snagged a four-minute power play when Gaborik was high-sticked by Scott Niedermayer in the middle frame. Then, in the middle of the advantages, Sean O'Donnell flipped the puck in the crowd for a delay of game penalty.
That gave the Wild a two-minute 5-on-3, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere, making his first start since March 31, only had to face two Brian Rolston slap shots and a Petteri Nummelin shot from way out. He swallowed both.
"The power play guys, we've got to step up," Parrish said. "We've got to take advantage of that, a full two minutes on a 5-on-3. We got some decent shots, but in the playoffs, that's not good enough."
Coach Jacques Lemaire was so desperate at the end, he threw out the 6-foot-7 Boogaard to stand in the middle of the net, hoping Giguere would be blinded. It didn't work. The Wild failed dramatically during the four-minute sequence, causing the crowd to erupt.
Unbelievably, the Wild eventually tied it up after Boogaard took a double minor for cutting open Kent Huskins with a high stick. Walz broke loose of Niedermayer and took off on a 2-on-1 with Gaborik.
Everybody in the arena knew who was eventually getting this puck, and Gaborik capitalized with his third goal of the playoffs while shorthanded.
The arena was silent, but not for long. With Teemu Selanne still screaming from the bench because Nick Schultz's clip of his left eye went unnoticed by the referees, Getzlaf gave Anaheim its one-goal lead back by scoring on a backhander before the front end of Boogaard's first minor was over.
"We gave up a shorthanded goal, and those can kill you," Getzlaf said. "But we bounced back the way we wanted to and it just exploded from there."
Boogaard didn't want to comment after the game, but Lemaire defended him, saying, "I thought Boogey did a great job tonight. The four minutes that he got, it was accidental. He was just trying to lift [Huskins'] stick to get the puck. It was an accident."
The Ducks iced it with 9:31 left in the third period when Corey Perry, possibly Anaheim's best player all night, jammed Dustin Penner's rebound underneath Backstrom after Penner drove the net.
It was an appropriate symbol of the night. Perry was allowed to stand unscathed in front of the Wild's net, while Wild players hit the deck anytime they came within breathing interest of Giguere. On that 5-on-3, in particular, Parrish was sent violently to the ice three times by Pronger.
"They just ran out of juice," Lemaire said of the Wild. "At a time there, I could see it was kind of tough. Skating was not good as it could be. Guys were a little tired."
Despite the pregame get-together, tempers didn't boil over at the start of the game because Pronger scored so early. It forced both teams to actually play hockey.
The Wild took six shots in the first period, with the first coming 7:20 into the game on Brent Burns' shot from the red line. Of the Wild's 27 shots in the game, few could be construed as scoring chances. Few came from underneath the top of the circles because the Ducks were near perfect positionally and collapsed down low to protect Giguere.
"Through the neutral zone, their defensemen are up on you before you even get to the blue line, so you have to get it in behind them. It takes a lot of energy."
Lemaire praised Backstrom, who made 35 saves and kept the Wild in the game with several outstanding stops. "He was special tonight," Lemaire said.
The Wild will fly home Friday morning, take a day or so off and then pack up its lockers.
It was a disappointing ending for a team that looked poised to make a playoff run before running into a team that was simply better.
Asked to categorize this season, Lemaire said, "We'll go through a few meetings and talk about it and we'll let you know. I want my head to be fresh."
|Boston - LP: C. Buchholz||2||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||4|
|Seattle||0||Top 2nd Inning|
|San Francisco||9:05 PM|
|LA Clippers||111||4th Qtr 5:56|
|Charlotte||88||4th Qtr 3:20|
|Boston||61||3rd Qtr 2:46|
|Cleveland||79||4th Qtr 10:32|
|LA Lakers||66||3rd Qtr 0:02|
|Miami||60||3rd Qtr 1:00|
|Golden State||54||3rd Qtr|
|Sacramento||45||3rd Qtr 11:24|
|Dallas||23||2nd Qtr 7:21|
|Utah||2||1st Qtr 7:40|
|Calgary||1||2nd Prd 9:44|
|UCLA||62||2nd Half 0:55|
|NC State||54||2nd Half 7:01|
|Kent State||9:00 PM|
|Michigan State||9:07 PM|
|(15) North Carolina||63||2nd Half 0:59|
|(3) South Carolina||63|
|(18) Iowa||62||2nd Half 2:09|
|(9) Arizona State||8:30 PM|
|(7) Florida State|
|(14) Stanford||9:00 PM|
|(2) Notre Dame|