Everything looked different for the Wild heading into the NHL playoffs this time around.
For the first time in ages, the Wild had a pair of gamebreakers in Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala. They had incredible depth in the roster, which drove a regular season that literally rewrote the record books. They had legendary goalie Marc-Andre Fleury between the posts and standout goalkeeper Cam Talbot waiting in the wings.
Ultimately, however, the Wild proved that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like so many teams before them, the Wild had to lament their missed scoring chances en route to a deflating 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their first-round series.
“Obviously they’re frustrated and disappointed with the result,” coach Dean Evason said after the game as he tried to drive the narrative forward. “We’ve been frustrated and disappointed with the results before and we’re coming back and continuing to do what we’re doing. We don’t expect our group to be any different in two days.”
As for Monday night’s Game 1 at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild had a building ready to burst shortly after the puck came into play. All the local crowd needed was a goal in downtown St. Paul to make their voice heard all the way to downtown Minneapolis.
Instead, the Wild didn’t do just about anything but put the puck in the back of the net. There were a series of posts from Matt Boldy, Jake Middleton and Joel Eriksson Ek throughout the game. There was a missed breakaway by Ryan Hartman late. There was a putrid 0-for-6 performance on the power play.
“This is playoff hockey,” Foligno said. “There are moments in the game that are momentum changes and they jumped on it and we had a chance to do it and we didn’t.”
It all added up to a result all too familiar to anyone who has followed the Wild over the past two decades. Whether it’s Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston at the start of the franchise, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the mid-2010s, or this supposedly new and improved version of the Wild, when the playoffs roll around, this team struggles to to mark .
On the other side of the rink, David Perron had an interminable game, scoring a hat trick to put the Blues ahead in the series. All of his goals came from the left circle with Fleury rushing into his crease after allowing a big rebound.
“He’s a good shooter,” Fleury said. “He’s always around the net. It seems like every puck in the power play ended up on his stick. He’s a good player and he put them on.
The dominance began early in the first period as the Blues took a 1-0 lead thanks to a diving goal from Perron. It happened minutes after Fleury enlivened the home crowd by disallowing Ivan Barbashev on a penalty shot.
As the Wild continued the game after Perron’s goal, the Blues extended the lead to 2-0 later in the first period on a goal from captain Ryan O’Reilly.
With more than enough running support for Ville Husso between the posts, Perron added another goal late in the second period to make it 3-0.
Without a doubt, the most frustrating part for the Wild was that they overwhelmingly outplayed the Blues in the second half with absolutely nothing to show for it.
With the game well in hand in the third period, Perron completed his hat trick with a goal that made it 4-0.
Now the Wild will focus on Game 2 on Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. It’s the next chance to prove to their fans that this time is actually different.
“We just have to let it go,” Fiala said. “It’s the best of seven. We have to be ready for the next game.
When asked what the message would be over the next 48 hours, Foligno played down that the Wild felt any pressure despite trailing in the series.
“We know we can beat this team,” Foligno said. “Getting a separation to come back to St. Louis is the goal now. This is the message. Stick with it and be positive.