The cliche of, “wait ’til next year” often rings hollow in the sports world. However, it is one that carries some truth if you are a Minnesota Wild fan.
Yes, the team’s postseason run came to an end again in the first round on Friday but the outlook seems bright for the franchise overall. Minnesota rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Vegas and were tied 2-2 in Game 7 before the Golden Knights scored four answered goals to put the series away..
The Wild do face some difficult decisions in the offseason with the team’s pending free agents, the looming Seattle expansion draft and perhaps a divorce with Zach Parise. But, there is a feeling that perhaps the Wild might just be entering their window for contention, instead of being in a perpetual window of being just good enough to make the playoffs.
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“I’m just proud of the way this group conducted themselves and how we played,” Wild coach Dean Evason said during a postgame Zoom call with the media. “The future will tell itself as we go forward here. Right now the group in that (locker) room is very disappointed about how far we’ve come and didn’t get past that spot we were in.
“We got ourselves to a Game 7 and we just didn’t push through,” Evason said. “We need to learn from this experience right now and going forward, and we will.”
Cam Talbot, who was signed as a free agent last summer, had a 2.63 goals against average in the regular season and was even better in the postseason. He posted a .923 saves percentage against the Golden Knights and was a reason why the Wild came up just short of winning a playoff series for the first time since 2015.
He teamed with rookie Kaapo Kahkonen to give the Wild a solid tandem in net. Kahkonen had a 2.88 GAA in 23 starts in the regular season.
Other reasons for optimism?
Kirill Kaprizov delivered on the promise in his debut season with the Wild . He finished the year with 29 goals and 54 points and provided one last highlight moment in a season filled with them. His power-play goal that tied the score 2-2 in the second period of Game 7.
Kevin Fiala added 42 points and has 43 goals over the past two regular seasons. Joel Eriksson-Ek chipped in with 21 goals and 33 points and showed some physical and mental toughness in the postseason.
He suffered an injury in Game 6 as he crashed into the net then reaggravated it in Game 7 but returned to the ice despite being in obvious discomfort.
Matt Boldy, Marco Rossi and Calen Addison are among the prospects who could join the roster next year.
The Wild aren’t perfect. That showed during the postseason.
Vegas dominated faceoffs during the series and wo.”n 41-of-62 (66%) in Game 7. The Golden Knights also dominated the second period of the series. Vegas outscored the Wild 3-1 over the 20 minute period on Friday and 11-2 for the series.
The Wild battled injuries through the series, most notably to defenseman Jonas Brodin early in the first period.
“It put a lot of stress on our back end, obviously,” Evason said of Brodin in the postgame media conference. “He took a lot of minutes for us. There’s no question that it hurt
Minnesota also made a postseason hero out of Mattias Janmark. The Golden Knights center hat a hat trick in Game 7 after scoring four goals over 51 previous postseason games.
The Wild may have overachieved this season and refused to go away quietly in the postseason.
Minnesota won’t be overlooked next year in a return to Central Division and the normalcy of an 82-game regular season. and arenas likely at full capacity again.
This season just ended for the Wild but next year might not come soon enough for the team or its fans.