Zach Parise sat at his locker stall, still partially dressed in his hockey gear, just staring at the floor.
He sat like that for a minute or two, staring and shaking his head, probably wondering what it must take to clear the mountainous hurdle standing in the Wild’s path year after year after year.
Effort wasn’t the problem Tuesday night. The Wild threw everything it had at the Chicago Blackhawks in an act of desperation. Nothing to fault there.
But effort brings little consolation without results, and unless the Wild can somehow turn into hockey Houdinis and engineer the mother of all comebacks, this once-promising postseason will end with a familiar conclusion.
By definition, the Wild didn’t face a must-win situation in Game 3. In reality, that’s exactly how it felt after the Blackhawks survived a frenetic push by the Wild to win 1-0 at Xcel Energy Center and take a 3-0 series lead.
“We felt like we played a good game, but it’s not enough,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’ve got to do better.”
That’s the crux of the problem for the Wild as it pertains to the Blackhawks. Being good is not good enough against a team that has its number. Being good is not good enough against a championship team that knows what it takes to win on this stage.
The Blackhawks stand one victory away from ending the Wild’s season for a third consecutive postseason. The victory in Game 3 improved the Hawks’ record to 11-3 in those three series.
Ultimately, that’s all that matters, not effort or scoring chances or desire or anything else.
The Wild felt quietly confident about its chances this series. Instead, Act III has been more of the same, more of the Blackhawks imposing their will on a team that can’t take that next step without first clearing this enormous hurdle.
And here’s something sobering for the organization as it ponders how to conquer the Hawks:
Jonathan Toews just turned 27 years old.
Patrick Kane is 26.
Brandon Saad is 22.
Teuvo Teravainen is only 20.
In other words, the Hawks aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
The Wild counters with Thomas Vanek, who skates as if he’s 45.
In three games this series, the Blackhawks have won three different ways.
They won a run-and-gun Game 1. They tightened the screws and pounced on every Wild mistake in Game 2. And they played prevent in Game 3 as goalie Corey Crawford, their supposed weak link, held the fort with a fabulous performance.
“Shoot where he isn’t and maybe they’ll go in,” Parise said in frustration.
The difference between these two teams is simple, really. The Blackhawks have snipers and finishers, and the Wild doesn’t.
The Wild doesn’t have a player with the same individual talent as Kane or Toews. And those two always seem to raise their level of play this time of year.
Kane, in particular, is so ridiculously skilled that he makes scoring goals look effortless, like he’s taking a leisurely stroll through a park. He beat Devan Dubnyk for the game’s only goal with a quick flick of his wrists, giving him 102 playoff points in 102 games.
The Blackhawks will be difficult to beat if Crawford plays that stingy in goal.
The second period crystalized the Wild’s inability to finish. Two wide-open, point-blank, Grade-A scoring chances resulted in nothing. Zilch.
First, Jason Pominville missed the net on clear shot that pretty much defined his playoff experience.
Then, Mikael Granlund had a breakaway, but Crawford stoned him with a blocker save.
“Hats off to that goalie,” Charlie Coyle said, “but we’ve got to put pucks in.”
The Wild had its chance to make this series interesting, maybe build some confidence and put some doubt in Crawford’s head.
Instead, the opposite happened. Crawford turned away everything, and predictable sound bites floated around the Wild’s locker room.
“We’re still breathing, we’re still alive here,” Coyle said.
Technically, yes, but the mountain remains in their way, looming as large as ever.