Ryan Suter had his face smashed into the goalpost, then wobbled off the ice, only to return, probably wishing he could apply some gas station frozen pasta to his cheek.

Zach Parise scored on a no-look, between-the-legs tip-in, never turning to show off his new facial stitches until the puck was in the net.

Joel Eriksson Ek left because of an injury, only to return. Jonas Brodin took a hit that left his left side crumpled, needing help to open the gate so he could rush down the tunnel.

Wild players wore this beating on their faces, beneath their pads and on the scoreboard, losing Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series 6-2 to the Golden Knights on Friday night in Las Vegas.

How they and their fans should feel about this series and this team depends on the realisticness of each individual's expectations.

My recommendation: After the emotions fade, after seven games worth of manufactured hatred of the opponent dissipates, Wild players and coaches should admit something to themselves: They lost to a better team.

The Wild was good enough to turn what could have been a blowout series into wonderful entertainment. But don't confuse competitiveness and entertainment with equality.

Vegas outscored the Wild 20-13. That's right — despite a few dominant offensive periods, the Wild couldn't average two goals per game.

Vegas had the better goaltender, although Cam Talbot, like his team, put up a quality fight. Vegas has the better size, depth and recent playoff pedigree, which is a remarkable development for a franchise that isn't much older than Kirill Kaprizov's first whisker.

This wasn't one of those losses that should cause Minnesota sports fans to lament fate. This wasn't an embarrassment, like the Vikings losing badly to the Giants or Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. This wasn't a heartbreaker, like the Vikings losing to the Saints or Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. This was an overmatched team proving itself gritty enough to extend a series that could easily have ended on Monday.

The Wild finished third in an eight-team division that featured a bunch of lousy teams. It got to face a second-place team in the first round of the playoffs. The Wild was probably lucky to not have matched up with Colorado, which swept St. Louis.

Instead, the Wild drew the Golden Knights, a good-not-great team but a tough matchup. And, predictably, a team dependent on two young scorers, in Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, received sporadic production but not dominance from the duo.

And received good-but-not-magical goaltending from Talbot. And good-but-not-always-physical play from the defense. And lacked talent and depth at center.

The Wild flashed its strengths but suffered because of its weaknesses, and, if we're to be honest, this series might have ended in a much-less-encouraging five games if Parise hadn't been returned to the lineup because of an injury to Marcus Johansson.

Parise produced a key goal to help win Game 5 and a beautiful breakout pass that started the scoring in Game 6. Without him, this series would have appeared, and been, much more lopsided.

Late Friday night, Parise mentioned the "sideshow" that surrounded his benching in the first four games of this series, noted he has four more years on his contract and said of meetings with the Wild this summer, "We'll see how it goes. … We'll have to figure that out in the coming summer what's going to happen. I don't have an answer for that right now."

Suter said: "It was a tough year, with all of the stuff going on."

We already know that Kaprizov has replaced Parise as the franchise player. The question is whether they will ever play together again.

Kaprizov excelled in his first year in America. He and his team should be back in the playoffs next year, and, with a little help at center, should be better at the most important version of the game.

"Those guys are just going to get better and better, with Kirill having another year under his belt," said Marcus Foligno. "We're going to be a dangerous team, or even a more dangerous team, next season."

The columnist did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com