ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Erik Haula sat in front of his locker with a blank stare on his face, unable to come to grips with the outcome.
Zach Parise searched for words to describe the gut-wrenching finish.
Ilya Bryzgalov sunk to his knees on the ice and wondered how in the world that just happened.
The Minnesota Wild gave the defending Stanley Cup champions their best shot, only to watch an awkward bounce help the Chicago Blackhawks end a heart-pounding series.
Patrick Kane’s goal at 9:42 of overtime lifted the Blackhawks to a 2-1 victory over the Wild in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night, eliminating Minnesota in front of its charged-up home fans.
”I’m sure that goal will be in the back of my head for a long time,” Haula said. ”It’s a horrible way to end it. ”
The Wild peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford with 35 shots, but Haula’s breakaway in the second period was the only one that got through. It was Minnesota’s first loss in six postseason home games.
Kris Versteeg scored at 1:58 of the first period for Chicago and Kane got a fortunate bounce midway through overtime when Brent Seabrook’s dump-in took a crazy bounce off the end boards and trickled out right onto his stick. Kane buried the backhand and buried the Wild.
”Our guys did everything that we asked and they laid it on the line and that’s what hurts,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. ”That’s what’s hard.”
After losing in Chicago on Sunday, the Wild came home needing a win to extend the season.
Once again, the Wild were the aggressors from the start, riding a raucous home crowd to an energetic first period.
But Zach Parise missed an open net on a beautiful crossing pass from Mikael Granlund and the Blackhawks took advantage of a goofy bounce on a shot from Versteeg that fluttered up in the air and past Bryzgalov, who made 25 saves, less than two minutes into the game.
”Crazy two bounces, off the stick, off the shoulder and then in the net,” Bryzgalov said. ”The second goal is not pretty, too. It was close a couple times to score a goal, the puck was there, there, but never crossed the line.”
It was the first time in the playoffs that the Wild had trailed at home, and just as they have so many other times this season, they responded.
Haula pounced on a clearing pass from Matt Cooke that took a fortuitous bounce off the boards and beat Crawford high on the glove side to tie the game during an entertaining second period filled with end-to-end, odd-man rushes.
But Jason Pominville, the Wild’s leading goal scorer during the regular season who struggled for most of the playoffs, missed an open net on a rebound chance and Granlund hit the crossbar midway through the third period allowing the Hawks to get the game to overtime.
”I’ve never seen a season end like that,” Parise said. ”You see it happen a few times a year but it can’t get any worse than that. I don’t know. We were all just kind of in shock it happened. The whole building was in shock that it happened.”
It was a tough way for such a promising season to come to a close for the Wild. The team endured injuries to key players, including three goalies, and several slumps that put Yeo’s job in jeopardy.
But the Wild stayed the course, picked up Bryzgalov for some crucial late-season goaltending and watched as a bevy of youngsters blossomed before their very eyes.
The Wild have been boasting for the past two years of a fertile farm system that promised to deliver success to the ”State of Hockey,” and it started to bring it this season.
Granlund, Haula, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, who was acquired in a trade with the Islanders, all emerged as reliable professionals, or even better.
Granlund started to display the puck wizardry that made him a sensation in Finland and Haula, a former seventh-round draft pick, was the Wild’s best player in the Chicago series.
It all adds up to a bright future for the franchise, giving veterans Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu the kind of support the hard-working core is going to need to go deeper into the playoffs.
But that provided little comfort from the sting of such a heart-breaking loss.
”We know in this run what we’re capable of and I think we proved that,” Koivu said. ”But right now it’s an empty feeling.”