And just like that, it was over.
The jubilation of a game-tying goal with 22 seconds left had almost entirely worn off and fans had now transitioned from the “Oh my god did that just happen” phase to the “Oh my god it’s not going to happen” phase. The Wild needed a goal to cap an incredible performance and comeback story all wrapped up into one, and instead got a montage of improbable Jake Allen saves.
Where do the Wild go from here? It’s tough to say. From all accounts, the Wild remain positive after the disappointing Game 1 loss, keying on the fact that the dominated nearly the entire game. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything going forward. Also, Wild fans have seen this team dominate already, and they’ve seen them lose. What the team needs now — what the fans need to see — is a finisher.
You might expect me to nominate Zach Parise here, given his contract, skill level, birthplace, etc. But it’s worth noting that even while his goal, as absurdly clutch as it was, had much more to do with Granlund’s pass and Koivu’s redirection that Parise last-second swat.
That’s also ignoring the fact that Parise prevented just as many Wild goals Wednesday night as he scored.
While it would be absolutely glorious for Parise to put this team on his back, I’m not going to call on him to do that. That’s something columnists do. While I can be a lazy writer at times, I can assure you, I’m not a columnist. Instead, I’m merely opening an invitation to anyone. Any Wild player can step up in this postseason and be the hero. Where would the 1987 and 1991 Twins be without Kirby Puckett? Playoff heroes not only etch themselves a spot in local lore, they can etch themselves a spot in the Hall of Fame based on their heroics.
Five Wild skaters fired five shots or more in Game 1, and Parise was obviously the only one to find the back of the net. Coyle, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula could not manage to finish, each failing to score with varying levels of spectacular fashion. Also, no Wild center managed more than three shots on goal either, which is a little fascinating, given St. Louis’ perceived lack of depth up the middle. The Wild may have dominated the team game effectively enough, but to win this series, and dare I say win more than just this series, they’ll need to finish.
What the team needs now — what the fans need to see — is a finisher.
Notably absent from the previous paragraph is Nino Niederreiter, who managed just one shot during the game, the least for any Wild player who isn’t named Chris Stewart or happens to be a Swedish defenseman. Nino was, and still is, a chic pick to take over this series, and the glimpses of talent and underlying numbers from him during the season hint at the possibility of a breakout, the kind of playoff breakout that makes for local legend.
Could Nino be the hero in waiting?
In the end, gameplay dominance is nice. The Wild controlling the game from virtually start to finish was a welcome sight, after their late-season woes. Devan Dubnyk looked as sharp as ever, only defeated by two rather poor defensive plays, basically the only two occurrences of that during the entire game. The Wild went a long, long way towards dispelling concerns from fans that they were not up to the task of playoff hockey.
But the lack of finishing persists. Something that haunted them during the March slump has indeed carried over to the postseason in game one, and that’s an abysmal shooting percentage. Small sample size be damned, it’s something that has plagued the Wild on and off for years. Not having a superstar has always held this team back, and it’s safe to wonder if it always will. It’s rare to find a Stanley Cup Champion without a homegrown Hall of Famer on it, and without an obvious candidate, the Wild must look to some fresh faces to be that player, and take that next step.
That being said, if any team can overcome the lack of a star power, it’s this Wild team, whose depth is its primary attribute. The lone except to having a homegrown Hall of Famer in recent memory could very well be the 2006 Hurricanes, who had familiar face Eric Staal in his very prime, and he responded by leading the NHL in postseason points, assists and power play goals, leading one to wonder if he could do it again, given the sublime season that he posted.
While it’s so simple that it barely needs to be said, the Wild need a winner. The Wild need someone to step up and carry them, not just a nightly hero, but a broad back to jump on for the duration of the playoffs, a player that will come up with the big plays over and over again. Winning every facet of the stat sheet except the most important part just isn’t going to cut it in the long run. The Wild need a finisher.
The Wild need a hero.