The outcome was the same — another first-round exit from the playoffs by the Wild, more what-ifs and further disappointment.
"They're all brutal," veteran winger Zach Parise said. "Anytime you're eliminated from the postseason, it's not fun."
But then similarities start to subside.
In an offbeat season, the Wild was just as unconventional. The team turned a transitional year into a springboard, a promising performance that previewed a way out from setbacks that have become mundane for the franchise.
So, while the seven-game loss to the higher-ranked Golden Knights is a familiar result, the journey wasn't. And that's why the future could also be different.
"There's a lot of positives that can be taken from this season," goaltender Cam Talbot said. "I don't think anyone had us pegged to push these guys to seven. At the beginning of the year, no one even had us making the playoffs I don't think.
"This group, we came together. We got a lot of good young core pieces and a lot of good leadership pieces, as well. So, this is a group that can do something special moving forward."
The Kaprizov factor
The Wild progressed most when it came to the vitals the team has long needed to succeed: its youth and the offense.
After years of being led by veterans, twentysomethings finally seized the torch. And spearheading the takeover was rookie phenom Kirill Kaprizov.
Five years elapsed between the Wild drafting the Russian winger in the fifth round and Kaprizov finally signing a contract to make his NHL debut, a lag that allowed the buzz to build like an urban legend. But Kaprizov didn't just live up to the hype, he eclipsed it — revitalizing a franchise hungry for a superstar.
Not only did the 24-year-old lead the Wild goals (27) and points (51), but he emerged as the undisputed favorite for the league's Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. What's also impressive is he ranked among the likes of Colorado's Mikko Rantanen (30) and Boston's Brad Marchand (29) in goals, slotting eighth in the NHL.
The last time the Wild had a top-10 goal scorer who was drafted by the team was Marian Gaborik in 2007-08.
"Some things were definitely easier than I thought," Kaprizov said in Russian through a translator. "Some things were definitely more difficult. Overall, you're never left satisfied. You always want to do better. You always want to have a better performance. So, overall, I think at the end of the day there is definitely a lot of improvement and things to look forward to to improve and get better at."
But Kaprizov wasn't alone in this parade of goals for an offense that was eighth best in the NHL — despite a lackluster power play and after the Wild was middle-of-the-pack last season.
Winger Kevin Fiala produced another 20-goal campaign, deploying his skillful shot as much as his savvy playmaking ability. And Joel Eriksson Ek filled the hole at No. 1 center after becoming a juggernaut at both ends of the rink. He combined his trademark stingy defending with a knack for the back of the net, racking up a career-high 19 goals in a breakthrough season that helps alleviate some of the pressure to address the center-ice position.
"We push each other," Fiala said. "We have high standards."
Those three wielded the compasses for the Wild's attack, but the team's depth was its north star.
No one in the NHL had better scoring balance, a lineup that boasted 17 players with at least 15 points.
Marcus Foligno shined as a two-way specialist. Jordan Greenway took a leap in his development. Mats Zuccarello clicked with Kaprizov.
Ryan Hartman and Victor Rask became the centers the team tried to sign in the offseason. Nico Sturm was effective in a full-time role. And the versatility of veteran acquisitions Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and Nick Bjugstad helped everyone settle into these responsibilities, which included a change of scenery for Parise on the fourth line.
"When you can roll third and fourth lines over and not only control play and control time of possession but produce and score," defenseman Ian Cole said, "you're putting yourself and you're putting your team in a really great spot."
This by-committee approach also extended to the Wild's zone.
Although Talbot performed like the No. 1 goalie the Wild signed him to be, rookie Kaapo Kahkonen manned the crease when Talbot was unavailable early in the season and thrived amid the unexpected opportunity.
Kahkonen's 16 wins are a rookie single-season record for the Wild, and his nine-game winning streak in February and March is tied for the fifth longest by a rookie goalie in NHL history.
Together, the two stabilized a position that had been in flux. Especially Talbot.
Brought in as a free agent last offseason on a three-year, $11 million contract, he brought a poise between the pipes that complements the Wild's box-out defending. After going 19-8-5 in the regular season, Talbot didn't waver in the playoffs. He's the only Wild goalie to record two shutouts in a series and wrapped the playoffs with a .923 save percentage.
"He's been everything for this group — stopping the puck, leading," coach Dean Evason said. "He was absolutely phenomenal in the series and gave us an opportunity to get to Game 7 and gave us a chance to win."
In front of Talbot, the defense remained integral to the Wild's identity.
First-year captain Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba continued to solidify a reputable top four, while Cole rounded out a competitive third pair with Carson Soucy. The penalty kill was also in the top half of the NHL.
In the end, the Wild as assembled made sense.
At 35-16-5, the team finished ninth in the NHL in a compact, 56-game schedule that featured division-only action during the pandemic — which affected the Wild, stalling play in February after more half the roster was sidelined by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Still, the Wild wound up third in the West Division behind Colorado and Vegas (the top two teams in the entire league).
"Our resiliency and the way the group conducted themselves all year," Evason said, "they should be extremely proud of themselves."
Summer to-do list
The Wild's season officially stopped Friday, with that Game 7 letdown to the Golden Knights, but the ending also felt like a beginning.
Now it's up to logistics to fulfill that vibe.
Kaprizov, Fiala and Eriksson Ek are up for new deals, contracts that could eat up the majority of the Wild's budget since all three are coming off strong seasons. The Wild has decisions to make on its crop of UFAs, which includes the likes of Cole and Bonino.
There's also an expansion draft to prepare for, as Seattle gets closer to curating its lineup by nabbing a player from every NHL team except Vegas.
A heart-to-heart with Parise is also likely coming to figure out his role after he was a healthy scratch at times, including to start the playoffs. Parise anticipates the conversation to happen in the offseason.
In the meantime, reality lingers.
The Wild fell short of a Stanley Cup, and this has happened before — again and again. But maybe, eventually, history will stop repeating itself. The way the team played this year, evolution like that doesn't seem so far-fetched.
"We're a couple of games away from being first in our division," Foligno said. "Stuff like that you have to take in in a positive way and just be angry all summer in a way of wanting to get better. There's no doubt in my mind our team next season will be better."