Zach Parise could barely utter words, Devan Dubnyk felt nauseated and Jason Pominville looked defeated as he stared blankly through a maze of reporters while trying to explain what went wrong.
Thomas Vanek wondered how he went two playoff rounds without a goal, and the wound was too fresh for Mikko Koivu to analyze all that had gone sideways.
There was an emptiness inside the Wild locker room late Thursday night. This was a team that wowed the league for 3 ½ months, upset the St.Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs and believed it had the makings of accomplishing something special.
But the Wild discovered that despite believing this year would be different, it's still not on par with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ousted by its nemesis for a third consecutive season, the Wild this time was easily swept in a series it didn't hold a single lead and was shut out in eight of 12 periods.
"You feel it's a waste of a year because we had a chance and we were playing some good hockey coming into the postseason and we proved it in the first round [against St. Louis]," Pominville said. "But it wasn't good enough in the second."
There's a lot the Wild will have to dissect. The biggest will be why for a third consecutive season the Wild's veteran go-to guys didn't produce against the Blackhawks.
Remember, this lack of offensive punch is why General Manager Chuck Fletcher signed Vanek, who entered this past season with the eighth-most goals and third-most power-play goals in the NHL since 2005-06, to a three-year, $19.5 million contract.
"He's a gamebreaker," Fletcher said July 1. "The things he does well are things that we need."
Vanek didn't score a goal in 10 playoff games. He registered 19 shots all postseason. He now has no goals in 17 consecutive playoff games dating last year's heavily criticized postseason with Montreal.
"I know I can score in this league," Vanek said Thursday night. "I put myself in a couple situations … to score and I didn't. A guy in my position has to put that away."
He wasn't alone. Koivu had no goals in the series and one in the playoffs. Chris Stewart, who missed the last two games because of an arm injury, had no goals in the playoffs. Parise, Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter each had one goal in the series.
Against Chicago, in 15 playoff games over three years, Koivu has no goals, two assists and is minus-13; defenseman Ryan Suter has no goals, five assists and is minus-14; Charlie Coyle has no goals, four assists and is minus-8; and Parise has three goals, five assists and is minus-13. In 12 games against Chicago, Pominville has two goals and three assists.
By contrast, in 15 games against the Wild, Chicago's Patrick Kane has eight goals and 15 points; Marian Hossa 14 assists, 18 points and is plus-12; Patrick Sharp has seven goals, 15 points and is plus-9; Jonathan Toews has three goals and five assists; and Duncan Keith has nine points and is plus-12.
This is not a small sample size anymore. Koivu has scored two goals and nine assists and is minus-17 in his past 30 playoff games. In 25 playoff games with the Wild, Pominville has five goals and 10 assists. In 28 playoff games with the Wild, Suter has one goal, nine assists and is minus-18.
Koivu was asked if there needs to be changes. He said, "No," that "you learn from everything."
But Suter admitted the big guys "have to be better. There's no question about it."
Wild coach Mike Yeo jumped to their defense. "[Chicago's] got guys that are a little bit different from our guys. We've got guys that do tremendous things for us, too," he said. "We might not have a guy that's going to get 100 points a year for us right now, but we have guys who are going to contribute offensively, but they play the game a certain way and that allows us to be successful as a team."
Kane is the most clutch playoff performer of his era. The Wild lacks anything similar.
At 26, Kane already has played 103 playoff games, scoring 44 goals and 60 assists. He has won a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and has won two Stanley Cups.
The Blackhawks know how to crank it up in the playoffs. They rebounded from a so-so second half (the Wild was 16 points behind the Blackhawks after the All-Star break, yet could have overtaken them the final day of the regular season) by advancing to their fifth conference final in the past seven years.
"We fell behind in each and every game," Koivu said. "It's tough to come from behind, especially against a team like they are. They're a veteran team, they've won in the past, they know what it takes to win one game but to [also] win a series."
And the Wild?
"We're trying to figure it out," Suter said.
Yeo wondered if perhaps all the talk of "this is our year, things are going to be different," went to the Wild's heads after beating the Blues. Pominville wondered if the Wild simply ran out of gas.
"That first round was high energy, physical and it might have taken a lot out of us," he said. "We had guys banged up."
Whatever the reason, the Wild needs to figure out how to get past the Blackhawks. In the new playoff format, the Wild could run into Chicago each and every postseason.
"Best-of-seven series, you're not going to win by luck. You have to earn it," Koivu said. "You get what you earn, and they're moving forward and we're done."