After he finished with the handshake line and acknowledged the officials, Wild center Matt Cullen looked up into the crowd and then banged his stick on the ice.
As he inched closer to the tunnel that snaked away from the rink — toward the Wild’s dressing room, the offseason and the future — teammate Marcus Foligno patted Cullen on the shoulder.
The exit had the look of Cullen’s final farewell to the NHL after 20 seasons. But once the 41-year-old left the ice and peeled off his equipment, he didn’t announce retirement or a return.
“I don’t know,” Cullen said inside Bell MTS Place Friday night after the Wild was eliminated from the playoffs via a 5-0 loss to the Jets in Game 5. “My only thought here the last while was getting it back home for Game 6. So to be honest, I don’t have an answer right now.”
Cullen seemed to be on the verge of retirement a year ago after collecting his second consecutive Stanley Cup with the Penguins and third championship overall. He ultimately decided to return — to his home state of Minnesota, signing a one-year contract with the Wild in August.
He went on to play in 79 games, chipping in 11 goals and 22 points before adding a goal and assist in the playoffs, and his poise as a veteran seemed to help stabilize the Wild when it was ravaged by adversity. Cullen was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Add in the more than 700 points he’s accumulated in 1,445 games, and Cullen’s time in the NHL has been meaningful and memorable — whether it continues or not.
“I have some family in Chicago for a hockey tournament,” the former St. Cloud State standout said. “I have some family in Moorhead for a hockey tournament. We need some time to get away from it all. As I’ve said in the past, it’s an important decision to me and my family so we’ll give it its rightful due.”
Forwards Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter did not register a point against the Jets, bookending a season that included rough patches for each player.
In the third game of the season, Coyle fractured his right fibula and Niederreiter suffered a high left ankle sprain.
“I think his injury in the beginning of the season really set him back,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of Coyle. “I’ve moved him all over the place and used him everywhere, and he hasn’t really had a chance to settle in one specific spot, whether it’s the point on the power play or anything. So I don’t blame him.”
Niederreiter also suffered a broken fibula later in the season.
“There was a lot of games he had played after his injury and he said it was still bothering him, but he played through it,” Boudreau said. “Only, I thought [Game 4] might have been the first time in a long time you could see him skate and the power he has when he’s working. You break your legs, it’s not easy coming back from it. And everybody wants to come back quick. These guys are not used to getting hurt, so they do and they’re just getting better now.”
Before leaving Winnipeg to return to the Twin Cities after Game 5, the Wild had to wait for a different airplane because of a mechanical problem.