Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild's season comes to an abrupt, stunning end thanks to a fluky bounce

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 14, 2014 - 2:51 AM

The sound of that stanchion may reverberate inside the heads of every Wild player, coach, front-office person, Wild employee, arena worker and fan for a long time.

The second I heard that hideous clank, I took a big gulp because I knew something abnormal was about to happen, and that it did.

What a brutal way to end a hockey game and certainly a season for the Wild.

The Wild earned a lot of respect around the league for how it performed this postseason. Tonight, the Wild outplayed the Blackhawks but just couldn’t finish and fell because of it, 2-1, in overtime thanks to yet another Patrick Kane big moment.

“It hurts to lose, and we really believe that we were capable of doing more than just winning this game tonight,” coach Mike Yeo said.

So many glorious Wild chances left on the ice will haunt the Wild this offseason, whether it would be shots Corey Crawford saved (about time he gets the respect he deserves league-wide) or shots that hit the post (Mikael Granlund) or shots that were swung at and missed (Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville) or shots that were blocked with wide-open nets in front (Justin Fontaine and Mikko Koivu).

That just left a bad feeling about how this one may end, and it sure ended with some bad puck luck.

Brent Seabrook dumped the puck and stepped onto the bench (he didn’t even get a plus on the goal), it hit a stanchion behind Ilya Bryzgalov and bounced in front.

Ryan Suter tied up Peter Regin and the two overskated the puck, but Kane, who got loose of Matt Cooke on his backcheck, drove and roofed a backhander.

The arena turned eerily silent. The guys in the GM’s booth just stared at the ice for what felt like an eternity. The players and coaches on the bench were in shock before finally hopping the boards for the always-classy handshake line. The fans, who were so loud throughout and stood for large portions of this game, gave the Wild a loud ovation as it dawned on them this would be the last they see of the Wild until September.

“We got lucky on the bounce there, but we didn’t get lucky with the way he scored it,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “That’s a skilled player.”

That’s for sure, and the playoffs are often when Kane shines. The 25-year-old, who scored the Cup-clinching goal in Philly in 2010, has four playoff overtime winners, 11 playoff winning goals and 35 playoff goals.

Zach Parise said what every teammate felt after the game -- that a playoff series and season shouldn’t end like that.

The Wild’s lack of finish though is the real reason why the Wild didn’t win this game. I think that we’re going to find out that a lot of players were playing with significant injuries. Pominville has to be hurt. I know for a fact Charlie Coyle’s playing hurt because I’ve seen him wrapped in the upper body. We know Ryan Suter’s hurt. Mikko Koivu, since ankle surgery, really slowed and had one point this series. Nate Prosser had been playing with a broken finger since Game 5 of the first round.

And so on, and so on.

“We lost,” Yeo said. “You never sit here and nobody’s feeling good when you lose. ... What could we have done? I don’t know. It’s hard to even think about that right now. Young players improved. I believe that our veterans had a huge part to do with that. The character that our leaders have, I believe that we’ve created a culture here, an identity and an attitude and they should be proud of that, but it never ends. They just have to keep working ... and build on it.

“The way that our young kids performed, I’m very proud of them. ... You’ve got guys that are getting needles to numb the pain. They’re battling through an incredible amount so what you see out there is only scratching the surface of the way they’re paying the price, physically, mentally emotionally, like I said it’s hard to win. Sometimes a bounce when things are that even comes into play.”

Life goes on, and like I said, the Wild earned respect this postseason run and especially this series. It’s not like the defending champs walked all over them. In fact, it was often quite the opposite. The Wild outskated and outchanced the Hawks for good chunks of most every game just like it outplayed the Avalanche for the majority of the first round.

“They are a tough team to play against, especially in this building,” Kane said. “We saw that in the first round against a really good Colorado team that plays similar to us offensively. You can’t get too frustrated. They have a great record here at home and they really feed off the energy of the crowd. I don’t know what it is against this team, but we never really seem to play our best.  It’s exciting to say you didn’t play your best and still won a series in the second round of Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

I’ll write more in the coming days about what’s next because it’s so hard to break it down this close after the series and this late at night.

Don’t stanchions stink???

As I was riding up the elevator after postgame access, I don’t know why, but this little story on stanchions and a quote from former assistant GM Tom Lynn popped in my head from the 2007 playoffs against Anaheim. Since, the NHL has made every team get this type of glass and stanchion system.

-- First issue: Re-signing Yeo and his coaching staff. I would think that would be a priority now after they were left dangling all season long. All they did was help save the season in January when Parise, Koivu, Josh Harding and Jared Spurgeon went down all at the same time, all they did was navigate through a crazy goaltender carousel thanks to the defensive structure that helped make the playoffs and frustrated Colorado and Chicago to no end, all they did was help guide the Wild to the final-eight.

I know the leaders on this team believe in Yeo and want him back.

“I think he did a great job,” Suter said. “There were times where the wheels could’ve come off and he kept it together. He was always level-headed. I think he did a great job and I think we’re going to have a bright future with him.”

Parise said, “I think they all did a good job. We were prepared. We made adjustments when we needed to make adjustments. We switched lines when we needed to switch lines. I thought they did a good job.”

On how much the Wild grew through the playoffs, he said, “A bunch. I think when you go through the playoffs, when you go through the first round like we did, when you go through the second round like we did, you're bound to become closer as a team and a unit. I think we did that. We grew. I think the players got better just in this playoff run.”

How much did this playoff run do to change people's perception of the Wild? Parise said, “What's most important is how we feel internally. Those guys are the champs, and we felt we were right there with them. I think for us, we feel like we were just as good as anybody. We raised the expectations. I think we showed we were capable of going even farther than we did.”

Added Erik Haula, who came of age this series, “We have a great group here. I hope people realize that.”

On a side note, I cannot even convey how many members of the Blackhawks media came up to me the past few days asking, “Is Yeo always like this?”

“Like what,” I’d say?

“Accommodating, … patient, … respectful, … even-keeled, … funny … good to deal with.”

He definitely earned a lot of respect from the media, that’s for sure.

-- Second issue: Chuck Fletcher will have to figure out the goaltending situation. Darcy Kuemper is a restricted free agent who will likely warrant a one-way contract. Josh Harding has a year left on a one-way contract. Niklas Backstrom has two years left on a one-way contract.

The Wild can’t re-sign Ilya Bryzgalov or another goalie until Fletcher tackles this because there’s no way the Wild can have three or four guys on a one-way contract on a 23-man roster.

Bryzgalov, by the way, did everything he could do the past two games.

“It’s tough to lose. We played hard. We gave it all,” Bryzgalov said. “At the end of the day, when you’re not getting the result you are seeking and wish, it’s disappointing.”

On his time in Minnesota, Bryzgalov said, “Great. I’ve been so happy here. I wish we can accomplish more. It is what it is. My personal experience was probably the best team I’ve played (for), best organization I’ve been [in].”

Yeo on Bryz: “I’m really proud of him, what he brought to our group. You know we all heard stories about Bryz and all I can say is this guy was an unbelievable teammate and came into some really tough situations and he was incredibly bought in to our team. So yeah definitely a tough one the way it ended, but he should be very proud of what he did.”

-- Third issue: Best way to spend the money this offseason, and this is an issue that won’t be an issue until July 1. Basically, the Wild brass just needs to decompress, go to Exuma, sit at Craig Leipold’s beachfront pad and decide how to best spend its money.

Does it go out and give another lucrative long-term deal to a 30-something veteran like Thomas Vanek or does it spend money elsewhere. Remember, the kids grew bigtime. They will continue to grow – the Granlunds, Coyles, Ninos, Haulas, Fontaines, etc. Jason Zucker’s still in the mix. These guys will all warrant raises on their next contracts and in a salary-cap world, Fletcher better make sure he can afford these guys.

More on that in the coming days.

Obviously, some guys will likely move on – Dany Heatley, who has been a great guy to cover the past three years, Matt Moulson (I can’t see the Wild re-signing him unless it’s very clear whatever lower-body injury he had is really what rendered him ineffective in the playoffs), Mike Rupp (another great guy), maybe Prosser (another great guy, but I think Christian Folin takes his spot) and maybe Clayton Stoner and Cody McCormick, although I could see the Wild being interested in re-signing both.

Like I said, more in the coming days. The Wild, as of now, hasn’t announced when it’s end-of-the-year access will be. The wound was too fresh, the hurt too painful after the game for the team to figure that stuff out.

Obviously, it stinks that the season has come to an end. It was a fun little postseason ride and I think it’s clear the future is bright, especially when you look at the way some of these kids stepped up when it most mattered.

Hope you enjoyed the Star Tribune’s team coverage throughout the regular season and postseason. Lots of hard-working people beyond me make this thing churn.

Believe it or not, the 2014-15 season will be my 20th year covering the NHL and 10th covering the Wild. Time flies when you’re having fun.

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Washington St
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ULM
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