Minnesota is a young franchise; at only 15 years (13.5 if you don't count the lockouts), the Wild is in the midst of its "my parents are wrong all the time, angry at authority" phase. The Wild probably walks around with its head buried in its phone, headphones on, and 'Rage Against the Machine' blaring full volume.
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.
Last year, the Wild made a strong statement at the beginning of the season; it came out swinging and seemingly a changed team. It seemed reinvigorated by its first-round (again) loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Then, it faltered in December and January. Kuemper had to come in and save Backstrom's bacon, and the Wild had to make a tear to get into the playoffs. Once in, it faced the Avalanche, a team that had teeth and a hot goalie, but was worse by most analytic measures available.
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.
This season, the Wild came out of the gate again swinging and ready for action. After posting arguable the best numbers in the league for the first month of play, again, the Wild tired. Like a teenager who can't pace himself, the Wild faltered. This time the culprit was the goaltending; Darcy Kuemper, hero of 2013-14, rather than dying the hero the Wild deserved lived long enough to see himself become the villain. GM Chuck Fletcher buried his head in the sand and stood pat with the struggling youngster until it was almost to late.
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.
The Wild entered the postseason for the third straight year, against possibly the only team it was afraid of: the St. Louis Blues. After a good win in game 1 against a Blues team that wasn't ready to play, the Wild again played well, for most of the game, in game 2. Much like the previous year, the Wild fell in the 2nd game despite out-playing their opponent due to a lack of scoring. Had the Wild found the wherewithal to win game 2, things might have been different.
Indeed, things appeared to be different on Monday, as the Wild ran literal circles around the Blues, making their opponents look like amateurs on the ice with professionals. Jake Allen, despite decent play, was left out to dry far too often and early against the hometown Wild, who had seemed to finally find its legs and swagger.
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.