Maybe that's why, when it took a 2-1 lead against a favored opponent that has bullied it in the past, the Wild got overconfident and sloppy. The Wild has, for a long time now, been missing the "boot on the throat" brutality that winners always have. Sure, in its third year it made it to the conference finals, but took another three years to make another appearance in the postseason, and even then it was disposed of in the first round, like a wet paper towel being tossed aside.
Despite out-playing the avs for a vast majority of the series, the Wild allowed themselves to be pushed to 7 games, failing to find the jugular until Nino's (decidedly fantastic) OT winner. In the second round, the Wild faced their old nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, and again out-played their opponent who was tired from a long and brutal battle in the first round.
Again, the Wild failed to find the scoring punch they needed, falling in 6 games to their Southern foes. "Progress!" the Wild shouted, and we its fans agreed; clearly a 2nd round exit off a lucky bounce and a failure to get the bounces was better. Make no mistake the Wild had some bad luck in the series against Chicago, but it failed to finish its job nonetheless.
Then, in mid-January, HOPE appeared in the form of the almost-too-tall-for-words Devan Dubnyk. Despite a battered reputation, Dubnyk became Kuemper 2.0 and became the hero the Wild needed, posting a 5v5, score-adjusted and shot-quality-adjusted sv% of .945.
And then, tragedy. If game 3 was amateurs against professionals, last night was a game of mighty-mites against a good high school squad. Its a good thing no one tracked passing-completion percentage, because I'm not sure I saw a single complete pass beyond the one scoring play the Wild had. Rather than building on their success in game 3, calmly placing their boot on the Blues' collective throat and stepping, the Wild partied, got home too late, and was drowzy through last night.
In any case, the Wild certainly didn't show up. There are a lot of reasons why. Parise has suggested the Wild wasoverconfident. At the start, sure, I buy it, but when the Blues scored 3 goals in 10 minutes, didn't that show anything?
Tony talked about the need for Veteran Leadership last week, and he was right. It's time for them to step up again; the Wild is a good team, much better than the "performance" last night. It owes itself and its fans a better showing than what happened to it in game 4. Whether the leaders on the team weren't leading, or the youngsters weren't following, that needs to change. The only player who played well last night was Darcy Kuemper, and his effort was meaningless simply because the game was over before he came into it.
The Wild says that it plays best "with its back against the wall." That's all well and good, but winners win because they don't let themselves get put in that position. It's find that the Wild plays well under pressure, but to put itself in a position where the pressure is do-or-die is playing with fire, and the Wild has gotten burned enough time that it should know better by now.
Friday could go one of two ways. Either the Wild comes out flying and ready for action and takes it to the Blues, or the Wild come out scared of having another game 4 happen, and goes through another game 4. The time is here for the Wild to mature, get out of its angsty phase, and start becoming the team we know it can be.
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