The days of moral victories are over.
There are no more shootouts, no more loser points for making it to overtime, and frankly, no more time.
With less than 4 minutes in the second period, Erik Haula scored almost single-handedly to put the Wild up 3-2 on the Colorado Avalanche. And then something amazing happened: A goal by Kyle Brodziak(!!!) seemed to mean that the Wild put their foot on Colorado's throat, putting the Wild up 4-2 at the end of the second period.
You know the rest, Kyle Brodziak gave, and he took away, giving up a miserable turnover that put the Avalanche back in the game, and the Wild failed to capitalize on three minutes of an empty net, and Paul Stastny scored with 13.4 seconds remaining, and went on to score the overtime goal.
There were a lot of things that I would love to talk about. Charlie Coyle was fantastic throughout the game. Erik Haula managed to score even without having a skilled linemate to his name. The penalty kill left Colorado 0-4 on the power play. The Wild sustained pressure against the Avs for long stretches, and looked at one point to be cruising to a 1-0 series lead.
But when your season could be over in 3 games, all of that goes out the window. The Wild needed to take advantage of a 2 goal lead.
Holding on to a lead here would have put the Minnesota Wild up 1-0 in the series. A 1-0 lead means that the series may already be over. 68.6% of the teams that win in Game 1 go on to win the series. And for a road team like the Minnesota Wild? That means that all you have to do is win out at home to secure a victory in the series.
Is that not a big enough opportunity for you? Consider the Colorado Avalanche will, at some point in this series, get Matt Duchene back from injury. Duchene is one of the most dynamic offensive players on the Avalanche, as well as their best fancy-stats players. The Minnesota Wild need to get a commanding lead on the Avalanche in this series before Duchene returns. Or better yet, eliminate them before that point. Anything else, and the Wild are playing with fire.
So, where do the Wild go from here? They have another game tomorrow, and a win then does a lot of things that a win would have done last night: It still takes a road game from the Avs and allows the Wild to merely win out at home. It still makes it so the Wild obtain at least one victory before the return of Duchene.
And a Game 2 victory is certainly not impossible. As we saw last night, the Avalanche are a beatable team. The Wild were able to match their output offensively, and were it not for two instances of unfortunate play by Kyle Brodziak and Jared Spurgeon, would have done a good job keeping the Avs off the board. Varlamov was shaky- he even let Brodziak score on him! The meltdown wouldn't have been able to happen had Erik Johnson not snatched a Brodziak puck towards an empty net at the last second. And maybe we wouldn't have talked about any of this had Jason Pominville hit twine instead of a post in overtime. The Wild at times were able to exploit the Avalanche's weaknesses, and it's hard to say that they couldn't exploit those same weakness again.
But as much as the Avalanche have been over-achieving in terms of their advanced statistics, this is still an Avalanche team that won 52 games this season, and this team has two significant strengths in their forwards (Nathan MacKinnon was incredible tonight- and to think, he's only 18), and their goaltending. It's not a team that the Wild can afford to drop the ball when they've appeared to wrap a game up.
It's time to move on, though. Game 2 is tomorrow night, and the Wild are still 4 wins away from winning their first playoff series since 2003. The game was close, exciting, and intense, suggesting a long series, There's still plenty to look forward to.
But man, there's going to be no way the Wild can possibly lose this series, and not have everyone invested in this team dwelling on the Game 1 they gave away. Being able to point to bright spots in defeat will be irrelevant. If the Wild wish to advance to Round 2, they will have to capitalize on opportunities and translate them into actual victories.