Wild ousted from playoffs due to injuries, scoring issues

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The Minnesota Wild were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights, losing 6-2 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup First Round on Friday.

After finishing third in the Honda West Division (35-16-5), improving their points percentage (.670) from last season (.588) and 2018-19 (.506), the Wild fell behind the Golden Knights 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. They came back to force Game 7 but still have not advanced past the first round since 2015.

Here’s a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Wild and why things could be even better next season:

The skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Joseph Cramarossa, F; Nick Bjugstad, F; Nick Bonino, F; Marcus Johansson, F; Luke Johnson, F; Kyle Rau, F; Louie Belpedio, D; Ian Cole, D; Brad Hunt, D; Dakota Mermis, D; Andrew Hammond, G

Potential restricted free agents: Joel Eriksson Ek, F; Kevin Fiala, F

Potential 2021 NHL Draft picks: 9

What went wrong

Injuries: Defenseman Jonas Brodin sustained an undisclosed injury after playing 1:56 in Game 7. With defenseman Carson Soucy already out with an injury, the defense was stressed in the decisive game against an explosive opponent. Forward Joel Eriksson Ek seemed to be playing through a knee injury sustained when he slammed into a goal post in Game 6. The Wild also lost forward Marcus Johansson in Game 3 when he broke his arm.

Lack of scoring: After winning 1-0 in overtime in Game 1, the Wild fell behind 3-1 in the series largely because they scored three goals in three games. They finished with 13 goals in seven games. For large stretches, they felt they generated enough chances but couldn’t solve Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury or catch a break often enough. Forward Kirill Kaprizov had three points (two goals, one assist) in the series. Forward Kevin Fiala had two points (one goal, one assist). 

Parise’s usage: Forward Zach Parise was a healthy scratch for the first three games, even though he entered the series as the leading playoff scorer in Wild history with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 40 games and had scored 77 points (35 goals, 42 assists) in 101 playoff games in his 16-year NHL career. When he entered the lineup in Game 4, he was used on the fourth line and not on a key four-minute power play. Parise scoring three points (two goals, one assist) in four games, including a goal that tied the score 1-1 in the first period of Game 7. After the series, he referred to “all the sideshow stuff that’s been going on.”

Reasons for optimism

Dollar Bill: Kaprizov has made the Wild more dynamic and dangerous. After putting up big numbers in the Kontinental Hockey League, the 24-year-old led NHL rookies and the Wild in goals (27) and points (51) in the regular season by large margins. He scored 10 more goals and six more points than any other NHL rookie, making him the favorite for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He scored seven more goals and 11 more points than any of his teammates.

More young talent: Eriksson Ek, Fiala and rookie goalie Kaapo Kahkonen each is 24 years old. Eriksson Ek set NHL career highs in goals (19) and points (30). Fiala scored 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists). Kahkonen went 23-16-8 with a 2.88 goals-against average, .902 save percentage and two shutouts, including a streak from Feb. 18 to March 16 when he went 9-0-0 with a .947 save percentage and two shutouts.

Prospects: Forward Matthew Boldy, the No. 12 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, took big steps this season. The 20-year-old scored seven points (five goals, two assists) in seven games for the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championship; 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 22 games for Boston College; and 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 14 games for Iowa of the American Hockey League. Forward Marco Rossi, the No. 9 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, missed almost the entire season due to complications from COVID-19 but is expected to recover. He scored 120 points (39 goals, 81 assists) in 56 games for Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

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