Just after Dallas forward Mason Marchment beat the clock by scoring on a breakaway with a half-second left in the second period for a three-goal Stars lead Friday night, boos rained down from the Wild crowd as the teams adjourned to their locker rooms at Xcel Energy Center. On a frustrating night for the Minnesota faithful, reality was setting in.
The Wild would be ushered out of the NHL playoffs in the first round for the seventh consecutive time, falling 4-1 to the Stars in Game 6. Like a year ago against St. Louis, Minnesota led the series 2-1 after three games, and optimism was palpable along West 7th Street. But just like last year, the Wild's season ended with three consecutive losses.
Here are five takeaways from Friday's game:
1. Can't score if you can't or won't shoot
Legend has it that Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.'' Friday night, the Wild found that out the hard way, going long stretches with barely making Stars goalie Jake Oettinger sweat on the way to the Lakeville native posting his third consecutive victory to close the series.
Minnesota, as expected for a desperate team, started strong by putting four shots on goal in the game's first 4:36. Then came the first dry spell. The Wild got only four more shots on goal in the opening period, and three came on their two power plays. Dallas, strong on the puck all night, took advantage with Roope Hintz's goal for a 1-0 lead.
The goal came 31 seconds after Wild center Ryan Hartman's shot into an open net from the crease bounced off the post.
"Loved our start, loved our energy,'' Wild coach Dean Evason said. "We couldn't score and had an unbelievable chance. They come down and the first shot goes in the net. Our group does this [indicating a sag].''
In the second, the Wild dried up again, not registering a shot on goal until 7:14 had expired – a span of 8:22 stretching back to the first period. Minnesota would finish the second with five shots on goal, while the Stars racked up 18.
From that 4:36 mark of the first period through the second – a span of 35:24 – the Wild put only nine shots on goal. The Stars stretched the lead to 2-0 on Wyatt Johnston's goal off an Evgeni Dadonov feed at 13:37 of the second on Dallas' 16th shot of the period. Marchment made it 3-0 with his buzzer-beater.
The Stars' tight defense and forecheck played a large role in the Wild not getting many shots off when the game's issue was in doubt, but players passing up opportunities while making an extra pass was a factor, too.
"All year, we struggled to score goals,'' said Evason, whose team was outshot 35-24. "Last year we scored a ton. We tried all year to figure out why, what the difference was. And we dove into a bunch of different things. But there are a lot of things to talk about, to think about here before grinding it out again.''
2. Power play is a Game 6 culprit
The Wild's penalty kill, which had allowed nine Stars goals in 22 chances entering Game 6, was not an issue Friday, going 2-for-2. Instead, Minnesota's power play was a weakness in the postseason-ending loss.
Given two chances with the man advantage in the first period, the Wild came up empty.
The Wild got the game's first power play when Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen tripped Marcus Johansson. With an opportunity to draw event, the Wild's power play – 4-for-20 entering Game 6 – got only one shot on goal as Dallas blocked three shots and Kirill Kaprizov whiffed on a one-time attempt.
Minnesota went back on the power play at 18:30 the first when Jamie Benn tripped Kaprizov. The Wild put on a little more pressure this time, getting more zone time and puck movement, but Oettinger made two saves as the Stars killed the penalty.
For the series, the Wild finished 4-for-22 (18.2%) on the power play and 15-for-24 (62.5%) on the penalty kill.
"Special teams weren't good enough, whether it was a penalty kill or power play,'' Wild captain Jared Spurgeon said. "We had a good first period, and we didn't capitalize. They get that one, and we were chasing from there.''
3. Dallas' star power prevails
All series long, the Wild didn't have an answer for Hintz, whose first-period goal gave the Finnish center a league-leading 12 playoff points on five goals and seven assists. Hintz made the biggest impact as the Stars roared back from a 2-1 series deficit, collecting three assists in both Games 4 and 5 and scoring a goal on Friday.
"I hope I never have to play against him. He's special,'' Oettinger said. "He's been the best player in the whole league these playoffs.''
Meanwhile, Minnesota's biggest two offensive threats, Kaprizov and Matt Boldy, didn't produce much. Kaprizov had 40 goals in the regular season, and Boldy scored 31, but the Stars held them to one goal in the series – Kaprizov's power-play tally to open the scoring in Game 1. Boldy finished with three assists, while Kaprizov's lone point was his goal.
4. Goalie advantage goes to Dallas
Filip Gustavsson's 51-save effort in the Wild's 3-2 double-overtime win in Game 1 and his 23-save showing in Game 3 gave the Wild a 2-1 series lead. After that, though, the series belonged to Oettinger.
Playing in front of family and friends, Oettinger made 32 saves in a 3-2 Game 4 win, 27 saves in a 4-0 Game 5 shutout and 23 in Game 6. His only goal allowed Friday came with7:07 left in the third period when Frederick Gaudreau, all alone in front of the net, beat him with a backhander.
"Their goalie was the best goalie in the series — the best player, period, in the series,'' Evason said.
Meanwhile, Gustavsson gave up three goals each in Games 4 through 6. He was pulled in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury after two periods Friday.
Afterward, Oettinger savored the happy homecoming.
"Pretty cool. Probably one of my favorite hockey moments in my career is winning this series,'' he said. "I learned just how hard it is to win the Cup. We've got to go do that three more times now.''
5. An disappointing ending
Another first-round exit left Wild players disappointed, frustrated and angry about the opportunity lost.
"Sick to my stomach about it,'' Hartman said. "This city deserves better than what we gave them. The fans, they've shown up for us all year and we failed them.''
Marcus Foligno pointed to Game 4, when the Wild didn't maintain momentum after winning 5-1 in Game 3 for a 2-1 series lead.
"Not getting bounces – refereeing-wise and just putting the puck in the back of the net,'' Foligno said. "There were a lot of opportunities that we missed. Game 4, I'm kicking myself with a breakaway, and we had a lot of chances in Game 4 to win that. It might be a different series if it's 3-1.''
Spurgeon spoke of the Wild not being able to finish.
"It's so fresh in your mind. It's so frustrating,'' he said. "We had spots in the series where we could have won games and put them away, and we didn't do that. That's something we've got to focus on next year and years out. … It's just frustrating every year when it ends like this.''