There was no on-ice celebration, no champagne popped in the locker room.
In fact, the Wild might have been the first team in NHL history booed off the ice by its home crowd on a night it clinched a playoff berth.
The few thousand fans who didn’t depart Xcel Energy Center early weren’t thrilled with the Wild’s 3-0 loss to San Jose and fourth consecutive defeat. But failing at a win-and-you’re-in scenario for a second consecutive game didn’t matter this time, since the Wild ended up clinching the final Western Conference playoff spot in an anticlimactic, uninspiring way: Colorado lost 4-3 at Nashville.
Wild players found out 10 minutes after leaving the ice.
“It’s nice to get that over with,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “It doesn’t make you feel any better right now, but it’s been talked about for the last week. It’s nice to get it out of the way and we can shift our focus. I don’t know if that was affecting what we were doing, but it doesn’t have to anymore.”
It was a fitting way for the Wild to make the playoffs during a long, meandering 2015-16 season that seven weeks ago cost coach Mike Yeo his job.
The Wild, 11th place in the West on Feb. 13 when Yeo was fired, will partake in the postseason despite having only 87 points heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against Calgary. The Wild finished last season with 100. It will enter the playoffs with more overall losses than wins (currently 38-43, 11 of the losses coming past regulation).
Doesn’t matter, players and interim coach John Torchetti said.
“We’re in the playoffs. You earn every single point,” said captain Mikko Koivu, wondering why nobody’s talking about the recent six-game winning streak that “brought us there. We know we have to play better hockey, but we’re in the playoffs. That’s great news for the organization, that’s great news for the team, that’s great news for the fans. All that is positive right now.”
Torchetti concurred, saying he was “disappointed how everyone is saying we’re backing into the playoffs. How do you back into the playoffs going [15-10-1]? You don’t do that. The guys have done a great job. I’m proud of them. They could have folded when I got here, too, so I’m really proud of them.”
The Sharks won for the first time in regulation in nine visits to St. Paul since Nov. 2, 2010. During the Wild’s six-game win streak, the Wild scored first in all six. During the Wild’s four-game losing streak, it has allowed the first goal in all four.
So, it didn’t bode well for the Wild when Logan Couture scored 4 minutes, 43 seconds in. The Wild went a stretch of 16 minutes in the first period with one shot, registered no shots on its first two power plays and ultimately took a penalty that led to the first of Patrick Marleau’s two goals.
James Reimer made 29 saves for his 14th career shutout.
“We put ourselves in a 2-0 hole,” Zach Parise said. “The effort has got to be there from the start of the game, and it wasn’t. Once again we’re chasing the game. … We’ve got a lot of work that we need to do. There’s just some areas of our play that aren’t good. That’s inexcusable in Game 81.”
Torchetti scrambled the lineup, but the Wild still alarmingly lacked urgency and once again efficiency at critical junctures.
The hope now, players said, is they can wipe the slate clean, loosen up and prepare to play the Western Conference regular-season champ — Dallas, St. Louis or Chicago.
What Colorado does now is meaningless.
“Your goal during the season is to get into the playoffs, and we’re in the playoffs,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Now, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. We have to prepare to be ready to try and accomplish that.”