1. Emergence of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner: In training camp, few paid attention to Spurgeon. Many paid attention to Stoner, but only because of how much he struggled. But for a team that couldn't get out of its zone the first two months, Spurgeon came up and was a revelation. And when Marek Zidlicky was hurt in late December, Stoner stepped in and stepped up. For a team with four defensemen making more than $3 million, Spurgeon and Stoner should easily make next season's roster at $526,000 and $550,000, respectively.
2. Brent Burns' impressive first half: Scored 12 goals (second in the NHL) and 26 points in the first 41 games, simplified his game and bounced back dramatically from two injury-plagued years in a row. The roller coaster that plagued Burns' game before became so refreshingly straight-lined, the Wild looked to be opening up the checkbook to extend him this summer (see "Bad Stuff").
3. Todd Richards' playing tough: The Wild coach showed early this season he wasn't fooling around. He spent all of training camp talking defense more than offense, then shockingly bag-skated his team after a lackluster loss to Columbus four games into the season. The 2 1/2 months of terrific play also seemed to start from the moment Richards pulled captain Mikko Koivu into a closed-door meeting to challenge him as a leader. He had the team churning until the wheels came off for a second consecutive March.
4. Lucked into Jose Theodore: No team in the NHL had a former Hart Trophy winner as its backup goaltender. But when Josh Harding sadly tore an ACL and MCL in his preseason debut, General Manager Chuck Fletcher lucked into Theodore, who was coming off a 30-7-7 season in Washington.
5. Kyle Brodziak's growth: There were times last season when Brodziak looked limited. But this year he seemed to grow as Richards continued to entrust Brodziak with No. 2 line duty, penalty kill time and power-play minutes. He won big draws, logged big minutes and set career highs for goals and points.BAD STUFF
1. Guillaume Latendresse's disappearance: It was known before the season that the Wild would be starved for goals if Latendresse didn't re-create or improve upon last year's 25 goals in 55 games. Instead, he signed a new two-year deal, arrived to camp out of shape and immediately got hurt.
2. Brent Burns' unimpressive second half: From the moment Burns was named to the All-Star Game (minus-3 that same night in Nashville), his game turned erratic. During the Wild's 2-10-1 streak before Friday, he had no goals, two assists and was minus-8.
3. Mikko Koivu's broken finger: Things were going so well. That is, until the Wild's captain was hit by a harmless-looking shot on the index finger by Anaheim's Todd Marchant on Feb. 18. By the time Koivu returned, the Wild had lost seven of 11 and, most critically, the type of game it needed to play to be successful.
4. Shoddy home play: Once upon a time, Xcel Energy Center was a difficult place for opponents. And then: 2010-11. The Wild put together Grade A stinkers in front of its frustrated paying customers all season long and enters Sunday's finale 18-17-5 at home. Not good enough.
5. Completely different team when trailing: Maybe it's because of its feeble offense or lack of go-to players, but Oilers coach Tom Renney pointed out a trend Oct. 21 that didn't change all season. He noticed that the Wild played a completely different brand of game when ahead as opposed to when trailing -- proven by its 30-4-4 record when scoring first (third best in NHL) and 8-31-4 record when giving up the first goal (third worst in NHL).