Colorado went on streak with eight victories in nine games at the end of the 2013-14 regular season and finished at the top of the NHL’s Central Division with 112 points. This gave the Avalanche an opening series with the Wild, a division rival and the top Western Conference wild-card finisher with 98 points.
The Avs came back from two goals down in the third period and then won the opener 5-4 on an overtime goal by Paul Stastny. Colorado won again 4-2 in Game 2 and the Wild came home to face what looked to be the same first-round fate as suffered in five games to the Blackhawks a year earlier.
Then, Mikael Granlund scored his famous flying goal in overtime for Game 3’s only goal, and Charlie Coyle scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory for the Wild in Game 4.
Back in Colorado, Nathan McKinnon scored in overtime put the Avs in front 3-2, and the Wild squared it again by erupting for three goals in the third period (5-2, final) in Game 6.
The Twin Cities and the hinterlands were juiced now, and then Nino Niederreiter, emulating Andrew Brunette from Game 7 in overtime in Denver 11 years earlier, scored in overtime to eliminate the favored Avs, 5-4.
Game-winning goals came from Granlund, Coyle and Niederreiter, all 22-year-old forwards, all targeted to keep getting better and become centerpieces in thrilling playoff runs to follow.
The Wild pushed the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions, to six games in the second round – winning twice at home and getting another game-winner from Niederreiter.
Granlund, Coyle and Niederreiter totaled 10 of the Wild’s 35 goals and 10 assists in those 13 playoff games.
The Twins were terrible, the Timberwolves were out of the playoffs for a 10th straight season, and unless mini-camp was your deal, this sports market belonged to the St. Paul hockey team.
The Wild and the Granlund-Niederreiter-Coyle wunderkinds made it through the first round again in 2015, although there was substantially less excitement: a six-game elimination of St. Louis was followed with a four-game sweep for the Blackhawks.
The Wild then went out in the first round to Dallas in six, to St. Louis in a five-game upset, and were overmatched in five games against Winnipeg in 2018.
Chuck Fletcher was fired, Paul Fenton was hired as general manager and he watched Granlund, Niederreiter and Coyle for over a half-season, and then sent them packing.
Who could have imagined this in May 2014 – that over a six-week period from mid-January to late February 2019, Fenton would get a return of Kevin Fiala, a wing with a chance to be productive, and two fourth-liners in Victor Rask and Ryan Donato for Granlund, Niederreiter and Coyle.
Owner Craig Leipold was so thrilled with those trades and a few other Fenton moves that he fired him on July 30 – replaced by Bill Guerin.
The Wild honeymoon with ticket buyers that was reignited when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed on July 4, 2012, and reached its zenith in that spring of 2014 … that’s over. The Wild has been put in the position of announcing inflated attendance figures – a tradition with pro teams and colleges in Minnesota and across the country.
Fenton still gets bashed as easily at Xcel Energy Center as Tom Thibodeau does at Target Center, but there is one defense for the small return on Granlund, Coyle and Nino:
Perhaps the rest of the NHL had seen enough to develop the opinion that they were better as 22-year-olds than they were as veterans approaching 27.
Coyle had a good playoff run with Boston, getting goals in three straight games as the Bruins lost to St. Louis in the Stanley Cup finals. Now, he has four goals and 11 points in 22 games for the potent Bruins.
Niederreiter had one goal in 15 games as Carolina made a push to the Eastern Conference finals. Now, he has three goals and seven assists in 22 games with the Hurricanes.
Granlund had one goal in Nashville’s six-game elimination vs. Dallas in the opening round. Now, he’s coming off a recent 12-game pointless streak and has three goals and five assists in 21 games for the Preds.
Fenton didn’t get much in his highest-profile trades. Maybe he didn’t give up that much, either. For sure, it would be overstating it to claim the Wild is haunted by Fenton dumping Granlund, Coyle and Nino.