‘Empty’ feeling for Wild after playoff ouster

Wild head coach Mike Yeo was nearly speechless more than 30 minutes after Minnesota's season came to an abrupt end at the hands of rival Chicago late Tuesday night.

Marilyn Indahl

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mikael Granlund stood by the faceoff dot near the Minnesota Wild bench simply looking down at the ice and not moving.

Minnesota’s second-year forward who came through time and time again in the playoffs was the last player off the ice Tuesday night. His teammates were slow to leave as well.

Minutes after Patrick Kane scored a fluke goal, after the postgame handshake line, after the Wild were applauded by the home fans in a season-ending overtime loss, shock was the only way to feel.

"It feels empty," Minnesota forward Nino Niederreiter said. "There’s not much you can say about it. You don’t even know what to say. It’s just, yeah, it’s tough. You feel lost I guess."

Kane won the series for the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime after the puck took an awkward bounce off the end boards and shot to the front of the goal. Defenseman Ryan Suter tied up Peter Regin, but behind him was Kane, Chicago’s talented playmaker known for big goals.

Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov tried to recover after the bad bounce, but Kane put the puck high to send the Blackhawks to a 4-2 second-round series win in Game 6 at the Xcel Energy Center.

A home rink that served Minnesota so well during the playoffs provided the cruelest of finishes.

"That’s not the way you should lose," Wild forward Zach Parise said.

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A bad bounce isn’t the way Minnesota’s should have ended. It wasn’t the way this tight series between the defending Stanley Cup champions and the upstart Wild should have been decided.

"Our guys did everything that we asked and they laid it on the line, and that’s what hurts," head coach Mike Yeo said. "That’s what’s hard."

Yeo was nearly speechless more than 30 minutes after Minnesota’s season — in which they advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003 ended, his voice nearly cracking.

"Not really," Yeo said when asked if he could describe the emotions. "No. I’m sorry, I can’t. Like I said I didn’t see that happening. I felt like this was a game that we were going to win."

The empty feeling was shared in a downtrodden locker room. Poetic injustice — a bad bounce as only hockey can deliver — dooming a Wild team that had rallied from every tough moment of a season.

There were rumors about Yeo’s status as Minnesota struggled in December. There was the January run led by rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper while the Wild dealt with injuries to Parise, captain Mikko Koivu and goaltenders Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, among others.

The playoffs were no different. Minnesota overcame deficits to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, eventually winning Game 7 in overtime in Colorado. The Wild did the same against Chicago, overcoming a 2-0 deficit with two wins in Minnesota to reach Tuesday’s pivotal game.

Then, as the Wild continually kept their season afloat at desperate times, Game 6 went to overtime, almost as one would expect. But the end boards of the home rink offered a merciless fate.

"We were all kind of in shock that it happened," Parise said. "It’s not the way you envision . . . I guess you never envision losing, but you don’t envision that happening and losing a series because of that."

Bryzgalov, the trade deadline acquisition pressed into service several times during a crazy season for the Minnesota goaltenders, said he had never seen a bounce come off the end boards like it did Tuesday night.

The Wild outshot Chicago 35-27 on Tuesday, including a 14-8 advantage in a big second period. Rookie Erik Haula provided the tying goal early in the second by speeding through the middle of the Blackhawks’ defense to pick up a loose puck and fire it past Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford.

Minnesota had other chances. It had two power plays in the third period. Forward Justin Fontaine had two breakaways, with two shots on his second breakaway and couldn’t beat Crawford.

"Tough to say anything," Haula said. "I can’t believe the way it ends. I felt like we couldn’t get a bounce the whole game. We had a lot of chances around the net. I can’t believe that that’s how it ends."

Skating slowly off the ice and fans leaving the stands for the last time this season, no one could believe the Wild’s season ended that way.

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