Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane ended the Minnesota Wild’s season last Tuesday, scoring on a bad bounce in overtime to take the game and second-round playoff series. Despite this fact, in 2014 the Minnesota Wild sent an important message to their fans and the other teams in the NHL.
Their entire season, especially their exciting playoff run, rejuvenated a sports market that hasn’t had anything to be enthusiastic about since the 2009 Vikings (the Lynx simply don’t have the same following as the four male professional teams). The message they sent is clear: in addition to top-tier talent like Parise, Suter, and Pominville, their young stars have arrived and are ready to make an impact in the league as well.
After winning game four against the Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center in dramatic fashion the Wild headed back to Chicago. They took a 1-0 lead early on thanks to great effort by Erik Haula. In the end the Wild became the first team in the second round to lose a game when scoring first, falling short 2-1. They found themselves down 3-1 in the series, but since they had come back from that deficit to beat the Avalanche it still felt like they had a good chance to comeback.
Things didn’t start out as they had planned in game six, however. Following a lost puck battle in the defensive corner the Blackhawks scored early on an unfortunate bounce. The Wild struck back in the second period when a beautiful pass off the board by Matt Cooke set up Erik Haula once again for the team’s first goal. The game stayed 1-1 for the rest of regulation. As the third period ended it felt like the stage was set for the teams to play deep into the night.
Midway through the overtime period, after the Wild had pressured early, the Blackhawks dumped the puck down behind the net along the glass. It hit a metal stanchion and bounced out front to Patrick Kane. Kane made a move from his forehand to his backhand and put the puck into the Wild net, ending an impressive run in the playoffs for the “young” Wild.
It could be argued, however, that the NHL still cost the Wild the game. A few years ago the league made the decision that “soft glass” would be installed in every arena in the NHL. Each piece of soft glass is separated by metal stanchions. The Wild were one of several teams that had stanchion-less seamless glass in the building, and this would have prevented the bounce that ended the game and season for the Wild. I admit, though, that using this as an excuse may be a bit of stretch, as the team had several grade-A chances to take the lead or win the game throughout the second, third, and overtime periods.
This playoff run showed Wild fans that the future looks bright for their favorite team. In both rounds young players like Granlund, Haula, Niederreiter, and Coyle all showed why they are so highly thought of. The only one of the foursome that was drafted after the first round was seventh-rounder Haula, yet he scored the only goals for the Wild in games five and six of the second round. Between them, Granlund and Niederreiter had three game-winning goals. Such poise under pressure speaks volumes for our young talent.
Although they need to address a few areas of concern (which I will touch on in later blogs), the future looks bright for the Minnesota Wild. Their fans should have hope and the rest of the NHL should take notice.
Peter Ripka is the co-host of the Rambling On podcast. He's a blogger and analyst who specializes in sports, particularly hockey and baseball. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.