ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the first time in a decade, the Minnesota Wild advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One year after reaching the postseason for the first time in five years, the Wild went one step further, defeating the Colorado Avalanche in seven games before losing in six to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild and Blackhawks were tied at two wins apiece in the Western Conference Second Round, and Minnesota led 1-0 on the road after one period of Game 5. But Chicago's veteran stars were too much down the stretch and the Blackhawks rallied to win 2-1 before eliminating the Wild with their first loss at home in the playoffs in Game 6.
Here are five reasons why the Wild failed to reach the Western Conference Final:
1. Power play was powerless
Minnesota had chances to take control of this series on the power play, especially in Game 6, when it had two advantages in the third period of a 1-1 game. Each time, Chicago easily killed the penalty, sapping any Minnesota momentum in the process. The Wild were 2-for-17 with the extra attacker in the series (11.8 percent). Minnesota scored one power-play goal each in Games 3 and 4; it won those games.
2. Lack of finish
Few would question which team had the better of the grade-A chances in this series. As was the case in the first round against the Avalanche, Minnesota carried the play a majority of the time against Chicago. The issue for the Wild was finishing their chances. They worked so hard for every chance they got, but all too often they would miss the net, hit the post or whiff on a shot. The Blackhawks and their bevy of finishers did what they do best and took advantage of their opportunities; that's why they'll continue their quest for a second straight Stanley Cup.
3. Big guns missing
The evolution of young forwards Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund is great news for the Wild's future. But a big reason Minnesota's season is over is because the established veteran forwards simply didn't do enough to get them over the top. Jason Pominville, who led the Wild with 30 goals during the regular season, had one against the Blackhawks. Zach Parise scored three goals and had 10 points in the first round against Colorado but was held to one goal and four points by Chicago. Mikko Koivu had one assist and was minus-3 against the Blackhawks. The Wild scored a total of two goals in Games 5 and 6, each by Haula. That's simply not enough at this time of year.
4. Injuries take their toll
Minnesota's merry-go-round in goal was an ongoing storyline all season, and the job Ilya Bryzgalov did was remarkable, considering he was the Wild's fourth starting goaltender this season. A physical first-round series against the Avalanche that went the distance also took a toll on the Wild, and many of their best players were playing through pain against the Blackhawks. Defenseman Ryan Suter was already playing hurt when he sustained an upper-body injury in Game 3. He missed the final two minutes of the second period of that game but returned and played big minutes the rest of the way, though he was clearly not at 100 percent. It's believed he sustained an elbow injury that hindered him during the final three games. It was reported Wednesday that forward Charlie Coyle was playing with two separated shoulders. Forward Matt Moulson, acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline to provide goal-scoring depth, sustained a lower-body injury and missed the final two games. Defenseman Nate Prosser had a broken finger. It's believed Pominville and Koivu were injured, which may have played a part in their lack of production. Injuries are a part of the game for every team, especially at this time of year, but the Wild definitely had their share.
5. Puck luck gone bad
Let's be honest: The Blackhawks got some bounces in the final two games of the series. In Game 5, down 1-0 in the second period, Chicago scored after a shot deflected off Bryan Bickell's glove in front and beat a screened Bryzgalov, a goal which turned the momentum. The game-winner came after the puck ping-ponged in the slot and came to Jonathan Toews, who flipped it past Bryzgalov. In Game 6, Chicago scored on a shot from behind the net that bounced off a Minnesota defenseman, and in overtime after a dump-in by Brent Seabrook ricocheted off a stanchion behind the net right to Patrick Kane in front. Credit the champs for capitalizing on those chances, but those games could have gone either way.