Six games which made -- and broke -- the Wild season
By Wild Road Tripper
The Minnesota Wild, by all definitions, was a .500 hockey club this season. Finishing as close to .500 as was possible (38-36-8), the Wild dug themselves a hellacious hole with a 0-8 road record pre-Halloween, including 0-4 against the Pacific Division before the end of Teachers' Weekend in Minnesota (Oct. 17th). When you have so many targets of opportunity to say that this team was bad, picking six games where they really stood -- or, in this case, stank -- out was really a challenge.
But, when you have as many games that went bad on them as this team did, you also could almost do a 12-pack of Futility, or a Case of Calamity. In this case, however, we'll leave it at six (in deference to those in the organization who may actually be as frustrated as we fans are). Sadly, four of the six are against the NHL's weakest division this season -- the Southeast, the division where only one team (President's Trophy winner Washington) even made the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
So let's take a trip down memory lane, and relive six of the nightmares in a nightmarish season:
(in chronological order)
1. Nov. 12 at Tampa Bay: Lightning 4, Wild 3 (SO). The Wild took a 3-1 lead against the NHL's second-worst team at the time into the third period. After Steve Downie scored at 9:17, the two teams actually played a tight-checking game until Marek Zidlicky took one of the laziest penalties of the season, a hooking minor, at 18:42. With 15 seconds left in regulation, Ryan Malone scored to send the game into OT. Despite outshooting the 'Bolts 4-0 in the extra session, the game went to a shootout, where Vinny Lecavalier scored the eventual game winner, in a game which should have never gone to that point.
2. Nov. 15 at Carolina: Hurricanes 5, Wild 4 (SO). Was the barbecue outside RBC Center that tempting? Or was it the warm Carolina afternoon? Whatever it was, the Wild decided to take the first half of Sunday afternoon off, as the 'Canes scored the first three goals of the game (two of those on the power play), as six penalties in a row were whistled against the Wild, all of them in a 16 minute period stretching over the latter 4 minutes of the first period, and the first half of the second. Robbie Earl and John Scott scored twenty seconds apart; Earl scored again to tie it early in the third, but no more goals were forthcoming, as Jussi Jokinen scored in another shootout which should have never been allowed to happen.
3. Dec. 7 at Phoenix: Coyotes 2, Wild 0. This game single-handedly managed to put extreme confidence into the 'Yotes, as two goals by Phoenix, 44 seconds apart, decided the outcome of this game. The Wild only had 3 shots on goal in the third period. The loss snapped the Wild's season-high 5-game winning streak. Fortunately, there were only 8,981 in attendance to see this embarrassing game.
4. Jan. 14 at St. Louis: Blues 1, Wild 0. T.J.Oshie's goal, 26 seconds into the third period, stood up as the futility level of the Wild reached new heights. Josh Harding stopped 36 of 37 shots, as the Wild only managed a measly 19 shots against Blues goalie Chris Mason. Adding to the frustration in this game, was the fact that the Blues were shorthanded for 4 of the game's first 8 minutes, and the Wild failed to score during either advantage. With the Wild starting a 3-road-game-in-4-night trip, this was definitely not the way to start out January's longest journey.
5. Feb. 12 vs. Atlanta: Thrashers 3, Wild 2. Dumb penalties and lack of focus doomed the Wild in this game, not to mention being out-shot 15-3 in the second period, as the Thrashers scored the only goal in the last two periods. Marek Zidlicky and Shane Hnidy were both sent off on penalties in the last two minutes of the first; Nik Antropov scored on the resulting 5-on-3 with 14 seconds left in the first period, and then the frustration ramped up in the last two periods as the Thrashers out-shot the Wild 25-12 over the last 40 minutes. The booing at the end of the second and third periods was noticible throughout the 'X', as the Wild let two easy points slide away.
6. March 9 vs. Florida: Panthers 3, Wild 2. The worst shooting team in the NHL -- the Panthers -- looked like they were big-time snipers on this Tuesday night, as both of their two shots on goal in the third period found twine, as the Panthers came back to take a two-goal lead way from the Wild, who had out-shot the Panthers by a 3 to 1 margin going into the period. In the third, the 18,191 in attendance at the 'X' let the Wild have it, as the team stood back and watched as their lead, and their last hope for the playoffs, evaporated before their very eyes. This was the third game in a four game losing streak (2 in OT, 2 in regulation) which sealed the Wild's post-season fate.
So, that's it. Nine points that slipped away where the Wild either out-shot the opposition by a significiant margin, or had a lead in the latter stages of the game, and then let it slip. Granted, it still might not have been enough to make the playoffs, but a little effort -- 'compete level', as head coach Todd Richards would say again and again during the season -- would have gone a long, long way in these six games.
Would it have made a difference? Probably not, as the Wild ended the season against Dallas in probably the worst physical shape the roster had been in throughout the club's existence. If they had made the playoffs, they would not have been more than a No. 7 seed anyhow, and would have been lucky to have won one game in a series.
In the pre-season, I had the Wild not to make the playoffs, but to be a No. 9 or 10 seed. I wasn't expecting a No. 13 placement; but again, I didn't have the Phoenix Coyotes in the playoffs, either. IMO, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has shown he is not afraid to try and tinker with the roster, in order to make the roster that much better. Looks like there is still tinkering to be done.