Give the Minnesota Wild credit for giving the Chicago Blackhawks all it could handle in the second round of the NHL Playoffs. If not for a few unlucky bounces Tuesday night, the series easily could have gone the distance as Minnesota skated with and even outplayed the defending champs for much of the six games.
But that’s why the Blackhawks are the defending champs. Their offensive firepower allows them to steal games when Corey Crawford is playing at his best, which he was for the majority of the series.
Regardless, there are still plenty of positives to look at from the playoffs.
First, Minnesota was able to show it can play a versatile game and any style of hockey. In the first round, it matched the speed of the Avalanche’s young superstars like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Against the Blackhawks, the Wild had to play a more physical brand and defensive game in order to keep Chicago from getting the scoring chances it looks for. It will likely be a formula that other teams follow as it gave the Blackhawks fits when they were knocked around.
Perhaps most importantly for the Minnesota Wild during the short run in the playoffs was the real experience the young players gained in the process. From Erik Haula’s emergence late in the season as a two-way threat to Mikael Granlund’s ability to drive the success of the top line, the future is the brightest it has been in franchise history.
The most pressing issue moving forward is what to do about the goaltending situation. With Ilya Bryzgalov likely headed for free agency this summer, Minnesota is left with a decision between Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding and the oft-injured Niklas Backstrom. All three goalies are under contract next year and one must emerge as the full-time starter to stop questions about the position. Minnesota received great goaltending all season, but the idea of rotating goalies and hoping for the best should not be something to continue.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind at this point that the Wild can play with the best teams in the NHL. The days of hoping to play up to the level of the top competition are behind and it is an expectation that the Wild compete night in and night out.
The Minnesota Wild are close. That much was proved during this postseason. Make no mistake, with the addition of a couple of missing pieces, the Wild’s expectations next season will be Stanley Cup or bust.