Inconsistency Kills the Minnesota Wild’s Postseason

When the puck dropped in St. Paul Sunday afternoon, everyone was ready for a battle.  The Minnesota Wild had just snatched victory from the jaws of defeat only a day and half ago in Dallas to take the Game 5 win.  The momentum was on the side of the Wild, and it seemed that even the most hard-line skeptics were starting to move to the optimist side and believe that the Wild might steal the series win from the Stars.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

The Wild came out flat and allowed the Stars to soundly dominate them, scoring four goals in the first two periods.  Then in the third period with about four minutes elapsed, Jared Spurgeon on the power play would rifle a shot past Kari Lehtonen to get the Wild on the board, 4-1.  What preceded that goal was one of the craziest third periods in Stanley Cup Playoff history as the Wild eventually fall short of the comeback victory by a score of 5-4.  Brian Murphy, in his column for the Pioneer Press, explains it best that it was “Twenty minutes of valiant desperation and pure hockey gold almost absolved 40 minutes of craven indifference.”

It seemed very apropos that this Wild team would end its season in a roller-coaster game like this, considering that was pretty much what they had done all year to get to this point.  Game 6 was a true case of not having enough urgency until it was too late.  Had the Wild played the way they did in the third period right away from the opening faceoff, we might be talking about a Game 7 showdown in Dallas with a Wild team with a hot hand.

But that didn’t happen, and now we’re here talking about a loss that saw the Wild eliminated.  So as it is at the end of any major event it’s prudent to take a minute to take a critical look back at what brought us to this point.  So here’s a few thoughts to take away from Game 6 and the series, as the Wild prepare for what will be a pivotal offseason.

Lack of Puck Possession Throughout

This might sound familiar, and it is because I predicted in my last installment that the large deficit in puck possession needed to be addressed by the Wild or it could be their downfall.  They were not able to do that in Game 6, and just as it was in all the other games of the series, the Stars had a huge puck-possession advantage over the Wild for most of the game.

In Game 6 after the first period, the possession stats were tilled squarely towards the Stars. The Corsi was sitting at 15-6 in favor of the Stars, and the scoring chances were 6-4 in favor of the same team.  The Wild did manage to even up the Corsi by the end of the game at 40-40, and the scoring chances were 17-16 in favor of the Wild.  The only reason these stats are close as they are, is due to the massive effort given by the Wild in the third period.

The Wild needed to win the puck possession battle the entirety of the game and not just dominate one period.  That’s not sustained pressure, and really all the Stars needed to do is what they did … hold them off for 20 out of 60 minutes.  Had the Wild possessed the puck more and generated more scoring chances in the first two periods, they would have added a goal or two or perhaps even prevented a goal or two.  In one-goal games, scoring chances are huge and even missing one can be disastrous.

Turnovers Killed

The main reason Game 1 was so abysmal was because three of the four Dallas goals were the results of Minnesota turnovers.  Through the rest of the series, it became an emphasis item and in the Wild’s most solid win in Game 3 they did not have one turnover that resulted in a goal against.  It seemed the team had come a long way to cure its turnover issues, until Game 6.

The most crucial goal that almost sunk Minnesota completely was Jamie Benn’s late second period goal with less than a minute to go.  That play was a result of a careless offensive zone turnover by Jason Zucker that saw some nifty passing by Dallas to get Benn into position to beat Dubnyk for the Stars’ fourth goal.

To that point in the game, it was 3-0 and it seemed that the game was still slightly within reach.  That fourth goal so late in the period completely sucked the life out of the Xcel Center.  You can argue that since the game was a one-goal loss, that turnover was the one of if not the key moment impacting the outcome of the game.

Loss of Key Face-Offs

One area that the Wild were rock solid in for almost 98 percent of the series was in the faceoff circle.  Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula especially were winning upwards of 10 draws a game.  In Game 6, the Wild won the face-off battle 14-10 in the first period with another solid showing at the faceoff dots, despite terrible showings elsewhere.  Still it was two key faceoff losses by the Wild that caused two very big goals by the Stars.

In the first period, Jason Spezza’s goal was the result of a lost faceoff in the defensive zone by the normally reliable Erik Haula.  That was the second goal of the game and furthered the Stars’ lead and effectively almost silenced the crowd at Xcel Center.

The third period saw the fluke goal of Alex Goligoski and the Stars’ fifth of the game.  That goal was huge as it took the Wild’s comeback bid from a one-goal deficit with nine minutes to play to a two-goal deficit.  The issue here was another defensive zone faceoff loss, this time by Charlie Coyle.

Hard to stomach that something so good for the Wild in the rest of the series, contributed so largely to their demise in Game 6.

For all of its ups and downs in this year’s playoff performance, it was still one to remember by the Wild.  Certainly inconstant play in the end was their undoing as it was in the regular season.  The third period of Game 6 left us all wondering “Why didn’t you guys do that from the beginning of Game 1?”  People will remember the epic battles of this series and they’ll most likely think differently about some of the players who stepped up in those battles who had such bad regular seasons.  At the end of the day though, this roller-coaster season is over now, and the Wild have a lot of decisions to make that were influenced by these playoff performances.

But for now let’s leave those questions for later … after all it’s going to be a long summer, according to head coach John Torchetti.