The result followed the script, with the favored Jets prevailing in Game 1 of their first-round, best-of-seven series over the underdog Wild.
But those labels have been prescribed by outsiders and aren’t a reflection of what the Wild believes is its potential.
So after its 3-2 loss to the Jets Wednesday at Bell MTS Place, the team bemoaned the chance it squandered to pocket a series lead rather than solely focusing on the upside – just how competitive it was against a talented Jets squad.
“We’ve got a lot more to give,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “It’s gotta be something that we can build off of. We got better, and we could have won that tonight.”
The Wild nearly did, eking out a 2-1 lead in the third period after goals by center Matt Cullen and winger Zach Parise.
But instead of exercise its experience and closing out a win like it got in the habit of doing during the regular season, the Wild drifted from its game plan and started to make mistakes with the puck – namely a turnover that ended up on winger Patrik Laine’s stick before he buried the puck in the net.
That flipped momentum to the Jets, who sealed their comeback win – and first playoff victory in franchise history – with a point shot from defenseman Joe Morrow that deflected off winger Charlie Coyle’s stick and behind Dubnyk.
“I have a lot of confidence that we'll respond and play the right way next game,” Cullen said. “It just wasn't good enough, and I think that we all expect more. We had an opportunity, and it was a missed opportunity.”
Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s loss to the Jets in Game 1.
-Uncertainty loomed over the Wild’s defense entering the series and how it would hold up without injured stalwart Ryan Suter.
And although the unit misplayed the puck to create the turnover that ultimately led to the game-tying goal by Laine, it did an admirable job containing a potent Jets offense for most of the game.
“Obviously getting [Jared] Spurgeon back in – he’s been out for a while, so it’s nice,” Dubnyk said. “He gives us some more depth. He’s obviously used to playing that top pair, but [Matt Dumba] and [Jonas Brodin] have been really good for us. It’s certainly going to help us and for the majority of that game, I thought we played well defensively as far as how we wanted to do it in this building.”
Spurgeon returned to the lineup after being sidelined since suffering a right hamstring tear March 13. He logged 20 minutes, 22 seconds, while Dumba had a game-high (and career-high for the playoffs) 30:03.
Dubnyk’s play also was key for the Wild in stymying the Jets for most of the first two periods.
With the crowd amped up at the start, Dubnyk helped temper that enthusiasm by turning aside all 13 shots he faced in the first.
What was even more encouraging for the Wild was how Dubnyk was stopping the puck.
He was very economical in his movements, having to reach only once for a save since he was usually in the right place at the right time.
“I just wanted to make sure I was ready to go and ready to be a part of trying to quiet the building down a little bit at the start of the first game,” Dubnyk said. “I think we did a good job of that in the first.”
-The Wild’s most dynamic duo in the regular season was held pointless in Game 1, with center Eric Staal and winger Jason Zucker combining for just three shots.
Nino Niederreiter, the other winger on the line, chipped in only one more.
“They struggled a little bit,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But, they’re playing against a pretty good line [Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler], too. But as has been most of the year, if they struggle a little bit, they will be better the next night.”
-As expected, the Jets were physical – racking up 39 hits, including a shoulder check by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien on center Joel Eriksson Ek that knocked Eriksson Ek out of the game briefly.
But the Wild didn’t shrink from the contact, dishing out 31 hits of its own.
“I think it’s going to be like that every game, especially these two teams,” Dubnyk said. “That’s a part of it. You do that to get under each other’s skin, and you get some fast-moving, hard-hitting guys on both sides. I thought we did a good job answering and staying disciplined and picking our spots to give back.”