The Wild were gutted on Friday night when Dallas knocked them out of the playoffs, but imagine how they feel now.
Since they dropped a seventh consecutive opening-round series, the postseason has turned into anyone's game with the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche and the Boston Bruins — after winning an NHL-record 65 games in the regular season — getting eliminated.
"It's going to hurt for a while, especially with how wide open these playoffs are," winger Ryan Hartman said. "The way these past games have gone, it's frustrating because we feel like we belong to still be playing.
"But we didn't do what we had to do, and everything's over. So, yeah, it's frustrating."
How up for grabs the Cup has become is the latest woulda-coulda-shoulda for the Wild, a missed opportunity accentuated by injuries, untimely skids and familiar mistakes.
"It's human nature to think of the what-ifs," winger Matt Boldy said on Monday at Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild gathered for their exit meetings. "Every scenario runs through your head: 'What if this didn't happen? What if I did this? What if we start this all over tomorrow?' It's human nature, but I would say the what-ifs are an excuse to anything.
"You live with how you played. You live with the decisions you made and stuff like that. So, yeah, it's human nature to do it that way, but in the end there's no changing it."
The biggest question unanswered is what impact center Joel Eriksson Ek would have made on the Wild's best-of-six series vs. the Stars.
“I hate losing. I hate losing in the first round at home. We want more as a team, and we gotta figure out what we gotta do right to make sure it doesn't happen again.”
Eriksson Ek suffered a broken left fibula when he blocked an Evgeni Malkin shot on April 6 at Pittsburgh. He missed the last week of the regular season and the first two games against Dallas but felt good when he was skating and decided to play in Game 3.
"To break a leg like that and he tried to come back, it shows [what] a guy he is," defenseman Jonas Brodin said.
But during Eriksson Ek's first shift, "it didn't hold up," he said, and he left after only 19 seconds. Since then, he's had surgery and will begin rehab after the stitches heal. Eriksson Ek expects to be ready for training camp.
"Everybody says it is just so hard to sit and just watch," said Eriksson Ek, a 23-goal scorer who is a fixture on the power play, penalty kill and faceoffs while thriving in a matchup role. "I think that's harder than actually being out there, being with the guys. That's what you want to do. You want to be out there to try to do your best to help the team."
Kaprizov was also hurt before the playoffs, his awkward tumble to the ice from a Logan Stanley check on March 8 at Winnipeg causing a leg injury that sidelined him until there was less than a week left in the regular season, but Kaprizov reiterated that he was "good to go" in the first round and didn't blame his uncharacteristic showing on the injury.
"It definitely wasn't for a lack of effort," Kaprizov said in Russian through an interpreter. "I definitely tried. It just didn't happen."
The Wild's leading scorer finished with only one goal, all the way back in the first period of Game 1, and the ensuing five games he went without a point is the longest dry spell of his NHL career.
"I know I didn't look the part. I didn't look like my performance and my shape like I typically do," said Kaprizov, who also mentioned he didn't know if he would remain in Minnesota or return to Russia over the offseason. "But I think that was more a factor of not enough ice time, not many games, taking a month off right before playoffs."
Boldy didn't score at all and tallied only three assists after racking up 15 goals in the 20 games he logged before the playoffs.
"I don't think I played well," Boldy said. "That's my opinion. It just wasn't what it needed to be."
He was healthy, but the Wild had other issues.
Hartman was dealing with a knee injury that won't require surgery as of now. Even in the 4-1 loss in Game 6 that clinched the series for Dallas, the Wild didn't have defenseman Matt Dumba for the third period after he hit his head on the boards.
"I just thought it'd be different this year," Dumba said. "I think that's what made it so hard."
What was the same were the Wild's missteps, their struggles on the power play and penalty kill and an inability to build on their momentum. In that sense, their six-game exit looked like a carbon copy to their loss to St. Louis a year ago.
"I hate losing," Kaprizov said. "I hate losing in the first round at home. We want more as a team, and we gotta figure out what we gotta do right to make sure it doesn't happen again."
With two of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup no longer playing after Colorado was outlasted by second-year Seattle and bottom-seed Florida upset Boston, both in Game 7s on Sunday, the road out of each conference isn't as daunting as it was four days ago when the Wild were still eligible.
“I don't think I played well [in the playoffs]. That's my opinion. It just wasn't what it needed to be.”
But they didn't stick around long enough for that to matter.
"We really had a good chance to make a run," Eriksson Ek said, "and that's why it stinks."
Instead, this level playing field is more salt in a wound that keeps coming back every spring like clockwork.
"We can say all the right things and make ourselves look good to [the media] and the fans by saying, 'Oh, we got to do this and that,'" Hartman said. "But none of that really matters. You just got to go do it. You can't just talk about it all the time. I think that's been a big thing. Everyone says the right things, makes it sound great, but it really doesn't matter.
"You got to go get it done and do it when it matters."