During the first three games of the Wild-Blackhawks series, we watched from the comfort of the couch. That changed in Game 4, with NHL enthusiast Rocket in town. It was time to pay up and see our first live playoff hockey game in a decade.
What we saw was ghastly at times. The Wild's first line, determined but often overmatched in this series, gave up two turnovers (one by Mikko Koivu, the other by Zach Parise) that led to the first to Chicago goals. The Wild's goaltending situation is something we have never seen, with the starter and top backup injured within four games. We also saw what has been evident throughout: Chicago is the more skilled team by a couple of lengths, if not more.
To make up for that, the Wild has either played a tight defensive game (Game 1 overtime loss in which they were a crossbar away from victory) or a very good and physical overall game (Game 3 overtime victory) to make this series competitive.
Game 4, one which often lacked flow or much of a spark beyond the first 10 minutes, was one in which another truth became evident: as frustrating as he can be, Dany Heatley is sorely missed in this lineup. Game 4 begged for his natural goal-scoring ability. Parise, at his best, is a relentless worker and gifted player, but he is no sniper. Neither is Koivu. The Wild, in this matchup and with this lineup, need effort goals and good bounces. What they needed Wednesday, particularly during six fruitless power plays, was someone who could find a corner of the net and hit it.
Heatley was injured in early April, missing the stretch run of the regular season and the playoffs. He had 11 goals in 36 games before that -- not exactly prolific, but it was tied for third on the team at the time. Minnesota scored one or zero goals in half of its final 12 games without Heatley. In the playoffs, Minnesota has six goals in four games, including Tuesday's shutout loss.
Heatley's presence most likely wouldn't have been the difference between winning and losing this series, so let's not call this an excuse. It would be foolish to believe that given just how good the Blackhawks are. But he would have helped -- particularly last night.