Feldman: Wild need fewer passengers, more help for Kaprizov in Game 6
The Minnesota Wild have been a franchise for more than two decades. And no matter who the face of the franchise has been, he historically hasn't had a lot of help in the postseason.
ST. PAUL — In the beginning there was Marian Gaborik. He couldn’t do it alone.
Then there was Mikko Koivu. He couldn’t do it by himself, either.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were then given contracts worthy of players expected to carry their team to championships. There were two of them and they couldn’t do it by themselves.
Now, here we are, in Year 22 of the Minnesota Wild and a new savior — one who set franchise scoring records this season and carries the promise of becoming the best player ever to wear a Wild sweater — can’t do it alone, either.
No. 97 is dynamic, electric, everything he’s been touted to be for years. But Kirill Kaprizov can’t carry this whole team on his back, as much as he’s trying to right now. He scored both of the Wild’s goals Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center, a loss that puts Minnesota on the brink of elimination, down 3-2 in the best-of-7 series.
Kaprizov leads the NHL in postseason goals scored. There’s an audible buzz in the Xcel Energy Center every time he touches the puck, or is anywhere near it. But as much as he tried to will this team to a victory in Tuesday’s Game 5, there were too many guys in green sweaters standing around waiting for the rest of the guys in green sweaters to make something happen.
“He’s unbelievable, right?” Wild coach Dean Evason said of Kaprizov, the 25-year-old Russian who has 161 points in 137 career games, including the postseason. “He’s unbelievable, he’s physical … it’d be nice to have 20 of him.
“He doesn’t surprise any of us. We’re just waiting for him to do it. Goals aside, he wants to win. He wills the team; he just didn’t have enough guys willing alongside him tonight. If we had 20 of him we’d be competing our butts off a little better.”
Twenty of him? The Wild could use just one or two who want to match Kaprizov’s effort right now. There are no other Kirill Kaprizovs on this roster — there aren’t many like him in the world — but Minnesota could use Kevin Fiala and Mats Zuccarello to resemble the players they were for the past seven months. They could use the heavy GREEF line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno to play the way they played for most of this season and the first three games of this series.
Instead, the best regular season in the history of the franchise has given way to a postseason that looks all too familiar to Minnesota sports fans.
The Wild have given up 11 goals in their three games at Xcel Energy Center in the series.
Marc Andre Fleury — the goalie they traded for at the deadline because of his extensive successful playoff history — has been average at best. His three Stanley Cups and 90-plus postseason wins will someday land him in the Hall of Fame, but that all means nothing at the moment, as the Wild stare down elimination in Thursday’s Game 6, which happens to be on the Blues’ home ice. Evason said his goalie wasn’t to blame for the four goals St. Louis scored on him in Game 5, though Blues sniper Vlad Tarasenko’s second of three goals beat Fleury cleanly just 88 seconds after Tarasenko’s first of the game gave the Blues the lead for good.
Minnesota also continues to allow St. Louis assistant captain Brayden Schenn to turn a hockey game into a wrestling match — takedown after uncalled takedown — without any kind of push-back or retaliation.
There are so many reasons why the playoff Wild do not resemble the regular season Wild.
“It’s one of those things where we got ourselves into this position and no one will quit on each other,” Foligno said. “We have nothing to lose. We seem to like that position.”
Unfortunately, that’s a position that Wild fans — and Vikings fans, and Twins fans, and Wolves fans and… — have come to know well.
Yet, we’ll continue to do what we do: lament a loss in a game that was wholly winnable and somehow find the optimistic willingness to allow ourselves to get hurt again on Thursday night.
That is something none of us will have to do alone.
Jason Feldman is the Post Bulletin sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.