Two hours before Saturday night’s regular-season finale, Chuck Fletcher sat alone in an empty section of a darkened lower bowl inside Pepsi Center for more than 30 minutes. The Wild general manager just stared at the ice. Stared and stared and stared. It was a stunning, powerful scene. Who knows what Fletcher was thinking, but it certainly epitomized the stress he was under and just how much was riding on one game for a franchise engulfed by anxiety. If the Wild lost to the Colorado Avalanche — instead of taking a 3-1 victory to draw the eighth seed in the Western Conference quarterfinals — there is no doubt there would have been an organizational shakeup. It could have almost certainly started with the coach, Mike Yeo, whose job was in danger. The Wild went from the division lead to almost missing the playoffs in 29 days. And there is no doubt blame could have landed squarely at the feet of the general manager, and on several players inside that ultimately jubilant postgame locker room Saturday. “We did it the hard way, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter,” defenseman Ryan Suter said after logging a career-high 32 minutes, 54 seconds against the Avs. “We’re in the playoffs. We have a chance to do something special now.” Yeo, with an ear-to-ear smile, was visibly relieved after advancing to play one of the NHL’s model franchises, the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Afterward, the second-year coach, who won a Stanley Cup as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant, acknowledged that “for sure” he knew his job was potentially in jeopardy. “I’m a firm believer that you go in and you believe,” Yeo said. “I believe in the group and I believe in what we’ve got going and I felt that we deserved this. It was a little harder than probably we all would have liked.” Relishing in the moment, Yeo didn’t want to talk yet about the President’s Trophy-winning Blackhawks, saying he had a lot of work to do Sunday and added with a not-so-subtle undertone that he was “happy” that he still could do it “in the office.” The organization hasn’t participated in the postseason since winning the Northwest Division in 2008. Zach Parise, who rode to the Stanley Cup Finals with New Jersey last year, said this was a huge growing step for this team. “You’ve got to start somewhere,” Parise said. “You’ve got to get the playoff experience. After four years of missing the playoffs, you’ve got to get in there and taste it and see what it’s like and experience those type of games.
Wild makes playoffs for first time since 2008 with 3-1 victory over Colorado
Minneapolis Star Tribune | Apr 28