DALLAS – When interim Head Coach John Torchetti took over in mid-February, the Minnesota Wild’s season had been written off.
Just not by the Minnesota Wild.
On the outside of the playoff picture looking in, the Wild scrapped and clawed its way back into the Western Conference’s top-eight.
Now the Wild faces another backs-against-the-wall situation: An elimination game against the Dallas Stars, trailing in its best-of-7 series 3-1.
“We’ve been through things like this for quite a while now, and we’ve done it before,” Nino Niederreiter said. “Now we’re in the same situation again.”
It’s why the Wild is carrying a not-so-quiet confidence into Game 5 on Friday against the Dallas Stars (8:30 p.m., FOX Sports North, NBCSN, SN360, TVAS3). Anything short of a victory will end the Wild’s season
Adversity and how it has responded to said challenges with the core of players has also informed the Wild’s current opinion. Minnesota trailed the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 and 3-2 in its first round series of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It's desperation; that's what we need,” Erik Haula said. “We need to play our best game of the series in Dallas then come back home.”
As this series has gone on, the Wild has found its footing more and more, but hasn’t left its footprint on the series score. After losing Game 1 in an effort it found unbefitting of playoff hockey, Minnesota responded by limiting the NHL’s highest-scoring team in the regular season to 28, 17, and then 22 shots on goal over the next three games.
Improvement, but with one win to show for those three efforts, reality has set in, and the Wild knows what it is up against.
“This is the best time of year, and we started the series a little slow, but now we’re getting the feeling that we’re playing how we’re capable of, and we feel like we can win, and that’s fun,” Devan Dubnyk said. “Nobody wants to go home, so you just have to use it as motivation to make sure that you give the best game possible, and see what happens.”
The Wild wasn’t supposed to get even this far. A long losing streak around the All-Star break was supposed to cripple its season. There was no chance of reaching the playoffs, much like there’s no chance of erasing a 3-1 deficit against the top seed in the Western Conference.
That is again, unless, one polls those wearing the sweaters adorned with the Wild logo.
“We’re definitely in a hole right now,” Jason Zucker said. “The last couple years we’ve definitely figured that out at some point. For whatever reason, I don’t know why, but we’ve put ourselves in some big holes the last couple years before playoffs and found a way to get out of them and make the playoffs and do well during the playoffs.”
Because as Torchetti said after Game 4, it’s easy to show character when you’re winning.
“But your real character is revealed when you’re losing,” he said. “That’s the bottom-line for me.”
In front of the Wild is a character of its past, matched up against a Dallas Stars team that represents the franchise’s history.
It’s one-game-at-a-time for the Wild now, hoping to find a north star of a different kind in Game 5.
“We just have to find a way to get back home,” Torchetti said.