ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Heard this one before? Their season on the verge of expiration, the Minnesota Wild stormed back with a vengeance.
The thrilling third-period rally against Dallas ended a fraction of an inch short, though, triggering another earlier-than-expected vacation despite a 4-0 deficit that ended in a 5-4 defeat on Sunday and gave the Stars the Western Conference quarterfinal series in six games.
“We can’t be happy walking away, that’s for sure,” interim coach John Torchetti said. “We should be playing, and it makes it tough for the summer.”
The resiliency the Wild have displayed ought not to be dismissed, a trait when mixed with elite talent that can lead to a Stanley Cup title. The problem is the dire situations they have repeatedly put themselves in before commencing these significant comebacks.
“Mental toughness is part of your game of building the consistency in your team,” Torchetti said. “When you’re being pushed, you have to want to be pushed, and you have to want to do it for each other. That’s the thing that I’ve seen in this team. They push for each other, and they held each other accountable. They just have to keep getting better at it.”
The Wild have made the playoffs each year since they signed left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. They’ve won only two series in this stretch, however, and been ousted in the second round or earlier all four seasons. Cumulatively, that’s not an acceptable outcome for owner Craig Leipold or anyone else in the organization after doling out identical 13-year, $98 million deals to the standout duo.
In 2013, the Wild endured a 4-8-1 slump before winning their final regular-season game to get in the playoffs. They needed a 7-2 run to start 2014 after a six-game losing streak took them through New Year’s Eve and trailed 2-0 and 3-2 in their first-round series against Colorado before winning Game 7. Last year, they went 2-8-4 spanning December and January before the acquisition of goalie Devan Dubynk spawned a surge.
Then 2016 brought the biggest roller-coaster ride of them all.
They skidded through a 1-11-2 stretch, prompting the firing of coach Mike Yeo in mid-February. Under Torchetti, the Wild won four consecutive games, lost three in a row, won four straight, went 1-3-1, won six in a row and finally dropped five straight to back into the playoffs.
“It was a pretty crazy year,” center Charlie Coyle said. “There were times where we got away from stuff, but we didn’t stop.”
Here are some key developments with the Wild this season to follow moving forward:
The Wild went 17-15-1 under Torchetti, including the playoffs, and generally responded well to the 51-year-old’s guidance. There’s no guarantee he’ll be retained, though. Both of general manager Chuck Fletcher’s head coach hires, Todd Richards and Yeo, have been up-and-coming AHL assistants. Entering his eighth season running the team, Fletcher could be moved to focus on candidates with NHL experience on the resume. Guy Boucher, Randy Carlyle, Paul MacLean, Adam Oates and Ron Wilson are among the available, but several players have stumped for Torchetti to return.
“Things weren’t looking good. He brought a lot of energy when he came in here,” Dubnyk said.
Parise led the Wild with 25 goals in 70 games, and his energy and leadership were missed against the Stars while he sat out with back trouble. The 31-year-old just wasn’t himself this season, though. Over a 27-game stretch for the Wild into late March, Parise had only two goals and missed two games because of injury.
Another accomplished left wing, Thomas Vanek, was unavailable for the playoffs following a disappointing performance down the stretch. The 11-year veteran, in his second season with Minnesota, had a career-low 18 goals. He last scored on Feb. 25 and didn’t play after April 1 due to a rib injury. Torchetti made him a healthy scratch four times. Vanek has one year left on his contract that counts $6.5 million against the salary cap.
A LINE TO LIKE
Center Erik Haula and left wing Nino Niederreiter were especially productive after Torchetti took over. They were joined by a revived Jason Pominville on their checking line, giving the Wild a valuable two-way asset against Dallas. Pominville and Niederreiter combined for 13 points in the series.
One of the Wild’s most troubling trends was a lack of progress made by the under-25 core, Haula and Niederreiter excluded. Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin were inconsistent on the blue line. Mikael Granlund was a force in the playoffs, but the Wild expected more than 44 points from the ninth overall draft pick in 2010. Coyle had a career-high 21 goals, but he was blanked in the final 18 regular-season games and scored just once in the playoffs.
Jason Zucker, who’ll be a restricted free agent, had a minus-4 rating in the series.
“He has to have a way better year next year, and that’s the bottom line,” Torchetti said.
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