Home Hockey jerseys Souhan: Reality hits hard – that Wild team wasn’t that special

Souhan: Reality hits hard – that Wild team wasn’t that special

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The Wild looked so promising.

A promising season, a promising series, a promising plan.

Through three games of its first-round playoff series against the Blues, the Wild led 2-1, having beaten St. Louis 11-7.

From that point on, the Wild lost three straight games by a combined score of 15-5.

The team held a 2-1 lead with five minutes remaining in the second period of Game 5. She was outscored 9-1 in the final 90 minutes of the series.

He is now facing typical fan reactions to the meltdown.

“They choked.”

And/or: “They need a goalkeeper.”

Both views are correct. Both, as explanations for their collapse, are incomplete.

While Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot should have done better, they weren’t the reason the Wild stopped scoring or Kevin Fiala disappeared.

It was an epic team meltdown, and it happened even as Kirill Kaprizov continued to establish himself as one of the game’s greats.

Why would the Wild, a highly skilled, high-scoring team, suddenly stop producing goals when it mattered most?

St. Louis played a tougher style and wore down the Wild’s smaller players.

Many of Minnesota’s top players — including Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Mats Zuccarello — are undersized. It’s hard to play hockey when you’re getting pushed around by your goalie, and it’s hard to play goalie when you can’t see anything but the nameplates on Blues jerseys.

It’s not even about hitting. If Marcus Foligno continues to play this way, hockey will steal the term “slugging percentage” from baseball to measure its effectiveness.

It is a matter of mass, strength and territory. The Blues continued to rely on the Wild, and the Wild wore down to the point where player skills evaporated.

It’s a depressing reality to face, as these players were so entertaining all season, playing a fast, crisp style that freed up their best stickhandlers to make creative plays. It’s a style of hockey that we would like to see rewarded.

Now the Wild face a typical Minnesota sporting dilemma: Are you making dramatic changes because of a three-game losing streak? Or do you hope a playoff loss proves enlightening and energizing for a team that looked so promising just two weeks ago?

Wild general manager Bill Guerin can’t overreact to a playoff loss because there’s no guarantee the Wild will face the Blues or a team like them again in the playoffs. The way the teams compete is essential but unpredictable.

He needs to find a guardian he trusts. It’s easier said than done, but it has to be done. Fleury hasn’t played well enough for the Wild to re-sign him, and Talbot’s midseason drop and lackluster performance in Game 6 makes him suspect as more than a replacement.

Guerin correctly judged his team at the trading deadline, adding size in the form of Jacob Middleton and Nicolas Deslauriers. Middleton was a plus-6 in the series; Deslauriers was 3 under.

Guerin’s task is to add effective size to his roster without slowing his pace of play.

He has at his disposal the best player in the history of the franchise in Kaprizov.

He has a typical Wild team in terms of playoff play.

For all its marketing success and popularity, the Wild has been a mediocre franchise since the summer of 2003.

A strong regular-season showing doesn’t change that, not when you’re outscored 9-1 in the final 90 minutes of a first-round playoff loss.

Coach Dean Evason was right when he destroyed the Wild’s flawed power play. But the Wild failed in almost every category against the Blues.

While Ryan Suter and Zach Parise eat the payroll, Guerin and Evason will have to solve some of their problems without leaving the organization. The power play should be tuned internally, given the skills available on this roster.

This particular Wild team shouldn’t be equated with every other Wild playoff failure or Minnesota’s collapse. But this Wild team has failed to prove that they are different or special.