The Wild looked so promising.
A promising season, a promising series, a promising plan.
Through three games of its first-round playoff series against the Blues, the Wild led 2-1, having outscored St. Louis 11-7.
From that point on, the Wild lost three consecutive games by a combined score of 15-5.
The team held a 2-1 lead with five minutes left in the second period of Game 5. It was outscored 9-1 over the final 90 minutes of the series.
It is now faced with typical fan reactions to the collapse.
And/or: "They need a goalie.''
Both views are correct. Both, as explanations for their collapse, are incomplete.
While it is true that Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot should have performed better, they were not the reason that the Wild stopped scoring, or that Kevin Fiala disappeared.
This was an epic team collapse, and it occurred even while Kirill Kaprizov continued to establish himself as one of the great players in the game.
Why would the Wild, a highly skilled, high-scoring team, suddenly stop producing goals when it mattered most?
St. Louis played a more grinding style, and wore down the Wild's smaller players.
Many of Minnesota's best players — including Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Mats Zuccarello — are undersized. It's hard to play hockey when you're getting shoved into your goalie, and it's hard to play goalie when you can't see anything but the nameplates on the Blues' jerseys.
This isn't even about hitting. If Marcus Foligno keeps playing this way, hockey will steal the term "slugging percentage" from baseball to measure his effectiveness.
It's about mass, strength and territory. The Blues kept leaning on the Wild, and the Wild wore down to the point where players' skill evaporated.
This is a depressing reality to confront, because those players were so entertaining all season, playing a fast, crisp style that freed their best stickhandlers to make creative plays. It's a style of hockey that you would like to see rewarded.
Now the Wild faces a typical Minnesota sports dilemma: Do you make dramatic changes because of one three-game losing streak? Or do you hope that a playoff loss proves to be instructive and galvanizing to a team that seemed so promising just two weeks ago?
Wild General Manager Bill Guerin can't overreact to one playoff series loss, because there is no guarantee that the Wild will face the Blues or a team just like them again in the playoffs. How teams match up is critical but unpredictable.
He does need to find a goalie he trusts. That's easier said than done, but it needs to be done. Fleury didn't play well enough for the Wild to re-sign him, and Talbot's midseason slump and mediocre performance in Game 6 make him suspect as more than a backup.
Guerin correctly judged his team at the trading deadline, adding size in the form of Jacob Middleton and Nicolas Deslauriers. Middleton was a plus-6 in the series; Deslauriers was minus-3.
Guerin's task is to add effective size to his roster without slowing its pace of play.
He has the best player in franchise history at his disposal in Kaprizov.
He has a typical Wild team in terms of postseason play.
For all of its marketing success and popularity, the Wild has been a mediocre franchise since the summer of 2003.
A strong regular-season performance does nothing to change that, not when you get outscored 9-1 in the final 90 minutes of a first-round playoff loss.
Coach Dean Evason was correct when he blistered the Wild's faulty power play. But the Wild failed in almost every category against the Blues.
With Ryan Suter and Zach Parise eating up payroll, Guerin and Evason will have to solve some of their problems without going outside the organization. The power play should be fixed internally, given the skill available on this roster.
This particular Wild team shouldn't be equated with every other Wild playoff failure or Minnesota collapse. But this Wild team failed to prove it's different, or special.