(Photo credit: grilled cheese)
The season is over for the Minnesota Wild.
Once again, Minnesota entered the playoffs with Stanley Cup aspirations; Once again, Minnesota failed to get out of the opening round.
Going against the high-powered Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota looked over-matched night in and night out before ultimately being sent packing in just five games. Winnipeg looks like Stanley Cup contender while the Wild are left wondering what happened yet again.
So, what did happen?
Game 1 saw Minnesota take a 2-1 lead early in the third period virtually quieting the raucous Winnipeg crowd. But rather than build on the lead, the Wild allowed the Jets up the pressure and tie the game just a minute after taking a lead. Winnipeg would ultimately win 3-2 in Game 1, thus setting the tone for how the rest of the series would play out.
In a much more physical affair than the first outing, Game 2 was complete domination by the Jets that only saw them lose a shutout when Zach Parise scored with 45 seconds left for the Wild. Two games in and Minnesota looked like a team that just didn't belong in the playoffs let alone on the same ice as the Jets. Luckily, they were heading home for game three and got some help from mother nature.
Due to snow storms in the region, Winnipeg didn't make it into St. Paul until the morning of Game 3. Once the puck dropped, it was clear that Winnipeg wasn't in the game at all, and the Wild took advantage of the situation. Despite falling behind 1-0 early, the Wild rolled over the Jets 6-2 to cut the series lead down to 2-1. Parise scored for the third game in a row, and the Wild looked like a team that felt like they belonged in the postseason.
Then came Game 4.
After being pulled in Game 3, Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was a wall between the pipes as he stopped all 30 Minnesota shots en route to a 2-0 shutout and a 3-1 series lead for the Jets. After the game, Minnesota didn't seem to have an answer for why the results of Game 3 didn't carry over, and it looked as though the series was all but over heading back to Winnipeg for Game 5.
That game was over in less than a period in as the Jets took it right to the Wild, scoring four goals in the first 12 minutes. Defenseman Jacob Trouba scored just 31 seconds in, and it didn't stop there as Winnipeg rolled 5-0 to win the franchise's first playoff series and send the Wild straight to the golf course.
What next for Minnesota?
For the umpteenth time, the Wild are left scratching their heads about their lack of postseason success. And though they dealt with several key injuries this year, it can't always be used as an excuse.
There are so many questions that need to be answered before the next season begins that the role of General Manager of the Wild is not a position many would want right about now.
Should the group be kept together for one more year to see if they can make a run? Who can be added to get the team over the hump? Is it time for wholesale changes to finally be made?
The team has an aging core in Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. It's a unit that, while talented, just can never put it together to make a deep run. And while skilled, Devan Dubnyk is left out to draw far too often by his defense to realistic expect him to win games.
Ultimately, it comes down to a decision about whether to rely on the aging veterans or turn the keys over to a young crop of players in Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, and Mathew Dumba to see what they can do as "the guys".
What next for Winnipeg?
The party continues for a city starved for a champion.
Since forming in 1999, the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise had been to the playoffs just twice before this year. Not only did they get their first playoff game win in franchise history against Minnesota, but now they head to the Western Conference Semifinals.
They are as potent of an offense as any team in the league and have the depth to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final. There's no real pressure on Winnipeg moving forward, and the players are sure to use that to their advantage against teams — San Jose and Nashville — that entered the season with the weight of coming so close in the past only to fall just short of the ultimate prize.