Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he looks back at a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 6 of the Second Round against the Chicago Blackhawks:
It was an anticlimactic end to an epic Game 6. A bad bounce off the glass in overtime spelt doom for the Wild’s hopes to force a Game 7, as the puck caromed right to the tape of Patrick Kane, who tucked home a backhand for the winner at the 9:42 mark of OT.
Like the ending of “The Sopranos,” the Wild’s playoff hopes cut to black in the middle of “Don’t Stop Believing,” the lights going out at Xcel Energy Center for the final time this season. But unlike a television show hitting the end of its run, the Wild is a team on the rise.
The team and its fans will collectively hang their heads tonight in disappointment, but the club has a lot to be proud, and excited, about. Minnesota battled through an adversity-filled regular season, won a playoff round for the first time since 2003 and pushed the defending Stanley Cup champions in a very close six-game series.
Kane’s goal was an exclamation point that puck luck just wasn’t on the Wild’s side. In the first period, Minnesota peppered nine shots on goal, including many quality chances, but couldn’t squeak anything past Crawford. On the other hand, the Blackhawks got on the board with a centering attempt that went off a mass of bodies in front. Kris Versteeg was on the forecheck and made a nice, but lucky, play to knock a Keith Ballard reverse attempt down with one hand on his stick. Versteeg did the right thing by then taking the puck to the net. The forward centered a pass with Clayton Stoner and Peter Regin battling near the crease. The puck went off the mass of bodies in front and past Bryzgalov.
On Ballard’s following shift, he threw the puck at the net from the point, getting it on Crawford through traffic. The puck rested in the crease with Justin Fontaine, Matt Cooke and Erik Haula all in the area but unable to find it before Brent Seabrook was able to clear. In the second period, we nearly saw a duplicate of the play following a Mikael Granlund shot from the sideboards, and the puck plopped still in the crease like someone hunkering down on the couch for a Game of Thrones marathon. Jason Pominville was right there but couldn’t convert before Niklas Hjalmarsson swiped it away. Fontaine had another great look in the third period, taking a cross-ice pass from Haula. Crawford was caught out of position, but Seabrook got his stick on Fontaine’s at the last moment. The Wild outshot the Hawks, 35-27, in Game 6 and, 163-138, in the series. I’ll take those numbers any day, but the Hawks were just able to convert on more chances than Minnesota.
Through the first five games of the series, I’ve written several times about how responsible each team was in the defensive end. Well, in the second period, both sides decided to eschew the lockdown D, throw a puck out on the pond and play fire wagon hockey. You know the last 30 seconds of a close boxing match, where each pugilist says to hell with it and wildly throws punches while the crowd goes absolutely bonkers? That’s what it felt like…for 20 minutes. While the period might’ve had Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo prematurely sprouting grey hair and Joel Quenneville, well, he’s already got a pretty solid silver mane going, it was reminiscent of 1980s hockey, and it was fantastic to watch.
In the second period alone, we saw three breakaways and another half-break. Erik Haula used his speed, fended off a last ditch effort from a diving Johnny Oduya and beat Crawford high to the glove side. The always-deadly Hawks forward Patrick Sharp got a clean chance, but was denied by Bryzgalov. Fointaine had a pretty good look, trying to beat Crawford high, but was denied, while Cody McCormick fended off Duncan Keith on a partial break, pulled a spin-o-rama attempt, but Crawford got the best of him, too.
With the wounds of losing still fresh, it’s hard to think about anything except the now, but the Wild has a good foundation to build upon. The team’s young players stepped up and showed a ton of promise that translated into wins in the postseason. The club’s veterans led the way and were a big reason those young players developed during the year.
“We still have to get better,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said moments after the end of the season. “There are some areas we have to improve, but this is a special group.”
As someone who followed this team all season, you have to appreciate the heart they showed. The club had five starting goaltenders throughout the season, each battling valiantly when they were called upon. The club pulled out of a midseason slump, which would’ve derailed teams that weren’t on the same page, like an expert fighter pilot in a tailspin. Through the season, you have to like the way this team stuck together…
Typically, it’s fairly easy for me to separate what happens to the Wild on the ice and how I feel before/during/after games. I’ve always considered myself a bit of a sports agnostic, not really getting too emotionally invested in the teams I follow (with the exception of my St. Cloud Sate Huskies, of course). Working for a team, it doubles and you really don’t want to get too caught up and be able to detach yourself from the club. I mostly root for greatness and a great story.
However, Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche sucked me in and I could feel the swings of each game weighing on my sporting psyche. Yeah, I wanted the Wild to keep winning, just like every other fan in the State of Hockey. But this season, I truly believed that the Wild had a chance at a deep playoff run, and that might’ve gotten me more invested than in previous seasons. Selfishly, I wanted to be a part of something special, something greater, even though I have nothing to do with the outcome on the ice. But I guess that’s what being a fan is all about. So, yes, you could say that this team did something I didn’t think would happen: it turned me into a fan.