Well, the Minnesota Wild season is over. Has been for about two weeks now. Do we dare look back, and at least try to smile, after a season when a goaltender managed to single-handedly turn Chicken(bleep) into Chicken salad, only to get crushed like a pan pizza, against the Chicago Blackhawks? Let's go...
The Wild in 2014-15 is the tale of two seasons; pre-January 14, and January 15 and afterwards.
Before January 14, you had numerous blowouts against the Wild, including the last two games before the arrival of the season's savior; the numerous injuries; two illnesses ravaging the team; and the 12th-worst record in the NHL's Western Conference following a 7-2 drubbing at Consol Energy Center vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 13, a game which I witnessed in person. And, left early (the second time I ever did that, by the way.)
There is reason for optimism. A legit first line, two decent centers, a vastly improved defense, and for the first time in four seasons, decent goaltending. But there is also cause for alarm, as well.
Players thinking the goal is 9 yards wide, instead of six feet. Certain players thinking the opposition blue line is the equivalent of the Demilitarized Zone. Poor aim (or, none at all) while shooting. (Or, being so afraid to score, as to not bother shooting at all, even when a wide-open net is directly in front of them).
The defense is not immune, either. Too much ice time by one (or two) defensemen dragging the team down in the playoffs. Too many turnovers (especially late in home games).
The goaltending quandry is about to take an upward turn, as Josh Harding 's contract expires, Niklas Backstrom is due to be bought out (Backstrom has one year left on his contract), which leaves only the 'new' goalie -- Devan Dubnyk, who has indicated he wishes to return -- to be signed during the next 35 days (or so). Remember, July 1 is NHL Free agency day.
So, the season had two parts: pre-Devan, and after-trade.
Part I: Started well enough, won four of the first six games prior to the first sign of trouble, the classic third-period collapse vs. the NY Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27, when the Wild blew a 3-1 3rd period lead and lost 5-4 in regulation.
Following that, three wins, and then a 3-game road trip (at Ottawa, Montreal and New Jersey) in which the Wild scored a measly two -- 2 -- goals, while giving up 10 at the same time.
After that, an up-and-down November, punctuated by the Thanksgiving Eve turkey served up to the Wild fans by the LA Kings -- a 4-0 drubbing, one which sent the faithful out of the 'X,' booing the team lustily as they went into the night.
And then...there was the 2014-15 Holiday season. Free points for everyone playing the Wild, except one poor unfortunate team (Toronto). An absolutely abysmal 2-7-4 record from December 15 to January 13. Five times when the 'defensively-minded' Wild gave up five or more goals, including two games where they gave up SEVEN goals (fortunately, neither game was in St. Paul, so all Wild fans had to do is turn off the TV set).
And then, there was Part II: An immediate 8-0-1 record after Dubnyk arrived in Buffalo early in the morning on Jan. 15. The best record in the entire NHL after Jan. 15th. Optimism reigned supreme, as pessimism was shown the door, and the Wild caught no less than 5 teams to claim the No. 1 wild-card spot in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. The season was saved, after all.
And then, being the only wild-card team to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Granted, the second round showed that the Wild still have a ways to go as a unit, but that the foundation is, indeed, there for the future. All it needs is yet another round of unloading overpaid underachievers, and that the youth of this franchise may actually be in position, to take this franchise where Wild fans want it to go.
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