It’s been a week since the Minnesota Wild bowed out of the playoffs following two straight one-goal losses to the Chicago Blackhawks, but as heartbreaking as being eliminated from Stanley Cup contention was, the Wild did not disappoint.
That may be a bit of a contradictory statement. However, Minnesota entered the playoffs as huge underdogs, as a wild-card team no one gave much of a chance to in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche, let alone of pushing the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks to six games—and in impressive fashion.
Not only did the Wild nearly force a seventh and deciding game—losing 2-1 in overtime in Game 6—but they also drove the play, outshooting Chicago, of all teams, 35-27 in the contest and holding a dominant 56.7 Fenwick For rating in five-on-five, close-score situations.
Considering Chicago was the second-best team in that statistical category during the regular season, that’s a sign of both the Wild deserving a better fate, or, well, just being better period. You choose in regard to which exactly.
Better than Chicago? It’s not that much of a stretch seeing as Minnesota did take the regular-season series with a 3-1-1 record. Obviously, Chicago did come out on top when it mattered most, so maybe there’s little point of getting into a pissing contest.
However, this Wild team was still better than any analyst was willing to admit heading into the playoffs. Additionally, fans can definitely make a good claim that this spring was the best the Wild have ever played over their entire 13-season history.
That includes back in 2002-03 when the team got even further during the playoffs, making a surprise trip to the Western Conference Final, largely by playing a dangerous game of rope-a-dope against much better Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks teams in the first two rounds.
It also includes during the 2007-08 season, when the team claimed its first and only Northwest Division title. That season, despite its 44-28-10 record, the team, again, seemed to be outplayed more often than not with a mere 48.1 Fenwick For rating in five-on-five, close-score situations, according to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.
Even as recently as this past season, the Wild had failed to solve their perpetual possession (or lack thereof) problem with just a 48.6 rating, good for 21st place in the entire league. However that was without Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise—two notoriously strong players on the puck—for 17 and 15 games, respectively.
With them healthy for the entire postseason, fans got a taste of a truly dominant team, as far as play is concerned anyway. The Wild may have only been 6-7 overall, but they were the second-best team possession-wise with a 56.6 rating, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins (56.7).
That’s pretty good company to keep, admittedly complete with similar questions in net, with Josh Harding out dealing with his MS-medication-related issues and Ilya Bryzgalov forced to man the crease in his stead.
Even so, Darcy Kuemper—who posted a decent 2.03 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in the playoffs before sustaining an upper-body injury—is just 24 and a good reason to believe the Wild will be okay for many years to come.
So, yes, there’s a lot to be happy about if you’re a Wild fan. Hell, you can even be happy in regard to how former-50-goal-scorer-turned-fourth-liner Dany Heatley performed, after he posted a respectable six points in 11 playoff games. Of course, Wild fans are likely still happier his contract is coming off the books after three largely forgettable years.
Fans can now look forward to this summer and potentially landing a quality forward to replace him, maybe even the highly sought-after Thomas Vanek, who has been linked to the team ever since he made his wishes to pursue free agency known.
And if they don’t?
Wild fans have plenty else to look forward to, even a spring and summer of golf instead of hockey, which, curiously, doesn’t seem as long as it used to. Next season is right around the corner, and it promises to be a good one.
All possession stats, unless indicated otherwise, were taken from extraskater.com.