The PSATs, otherwise known as the NHL’s regular-season games, are over for the three freshmen on the Minnesota Wild’s active roster. That means no partial could be cultivated from a valiant losing effort in Game 1 of the team’s playoff series versus the top-dog Chicago Blackhawks.
Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime falter marks the start of the real, far less flexible test.
With that said, there was plenty to like out of the performances of Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle in their Stanley Cup tournament debuts. But more of the same will be a must if Minnesota is to make this a competitive, let alone long-lasting series.
Coyle flew under the radar in Tuesday’s action compared to the majority of his teammates, but he did register a shot on goal, two hits, two takeaways and a blocked shot.
Brodin, who partnered with peerless minute-muncher Ryan Suter on the Wild blue line for much of the night, had two not-so-minor blemishes in his 34 minutes and 20 seconds of ice time. He was on the ice as part of the penalty-killing brigade when the Hawks drew the 1-1 knot that effectively forced overtime and lost his plus-one rating when the winning goal was scored.
Other than that, though, he blocked two opposing shots, recorded a takeaway and finished second to Mike Rupp for the team lead with five hits.
Zucker’s determination was most visible within the 44-plus minutes between Chicago’s equalizer and subsequent clincher at 16:35 of sudden death. He drew the last two of Minnesota’s four power plays when his hustle coaxed Niklas Hjalmarsson into high-sticking at 6:52 of the third period and Johnny Oduya the same infraction with 7:34 gone in overtime.
A mere 10 seconds before the Oduya penalty, Zucker’s 26-foot wrister hit the pipe. It was his fifth of what would be six attempted shots on the night, which tied Torrey Mitchell for the team lead.
A few more inches in the right direction and perhaps Zucker would have landed more than one of those shots on the net and one in the net, along with a stimulating 2-1 triumph for the eighth-place Wild.
Instead, they are left to look ahead to Game 2, where they will want more of the same in just about every area except the scoreboard.
Minnesota, a playoff qualifier after a five-year absence, is doubtlessly gelling a genuine contender’s core, complete with prized acquisitions Zach Parise, Suter and the more recently obtained, but currently injured Jason Pominville.
As they log more seasoning, the rookies ought to be an integral additive in the Wild’s rise.
For now, though, the minimum goal is to set a tone for the coming years with a respectable foundation, which can be propped up with a hard-fought series here.
To ensure that, every piece of the active line chart must flex the same assertiveness as they did Tuesday night. This means clearing the psychological hurdle of discouragement, which younger, inexperienced players can subconsciously submit to in the wake of a loss as deflating as the Game 1 sudden-death setback was.