Last spring’s NHL playoff exit still stings for the Minnesota Wild, perhaps no more acutely than for Matt Dumba, who played his first season in St. Paul in 2013-14 and is entering the final year of five-year contract extension.
No current player has been through more Minnesota postseason disappointment than the veteran defenseman, the Wild’s first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, seventh overall.
Asked Friday if frustration would be an accurate way to describe eight early postseason exits, six of them in the first round, Dumba said, “Frustration’s fair.”
“But you know what?” he quickly added. “This is obviously a different team than any of those years before. That’s why the frustration from last year is different from those other years, because I look back at those other years and step away from the offseason and you look at it and (wonder), could we have gone all the way? I don’t know. Last year, I think so.”
After a 4-2 series loss to the St. Louis Blues in May, many Wild players are still kicking themselves. They had set franchise records of 53 wins and 113 points, only to bow out of the postseason in the first round for the sixth straight time if one includes their play-in loss during the shortened 2019-20 COVID season.
They expected more.
As the postseason approached, general manager Bill Guerin added several pieces near the March 21 trade deadline, including future hall of fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, center Tyson Jost, hard-nosed forward Nicolas Deslauriers and big defenseman Jacob Middleton. They led their best-of-seven series two games to one after 6-2 and 5-1 victories but were blown out in the next three games.
“We thought we were capable of much more last year, especially with all the moves we made at deadline — just the feeling that we had coming into the playoffs and (then) coming up short,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “Obviously, yeah, it leaves everyone ticked off.”
Foligno and Dumba were among players debilitated by injuries by the time the playoffs rolled around, Foligno by knee and upper-body injuries, Dumba by a punctured lung and displaced rib suffered in an April 5 neutral-zone collision with Nashville defenseman Mark Borowiecki. It took Dumba, he said Friday, a month to recover.
“I was really disappointed with how everything ended,” he said, “and for me just sitting around doing nothing was just kind of creating more tightness in my body. Me and my trainer, Tommy, we got after it pretty quick, just started doing some rehab stuff to try to open up the chest and back again, to get where I need to be and just get training right away.”
Dumba feels right now, as does Foligno. Physically. Mentally, they’re still sore but ready to try again.
“We’re learning from the playoffs,” Foligno said.
That’s a theme for 15 of the 16 teams that made the playoffs last season, of course, but the Wild feel like they left a real opportunity on the table. They have to play well enough in the 82-game regular season to get another chance, but nothing they’ve been doing in training camp can’t be traced back to that first-round playoff loss.
“Honestly,” general manager Bill Guerin said, “I think it starts Game 1.”
The narrative developing early in camp is that after a great regular season, the team was confident yet ultimately unprepared for the postseason.
“We have to have more focus and more discipline and focus on better details of our game, and that will help us win,” Guerin said. “That’s why we didn’t advance, because we slipped on the details of our game.”
Dumba, 28, said he felt the Wild could win a Stanley Cup last spring “if we had that preparation and really dialed in, which we didn’t do. So, we have to hold ourselves accountable to that, and I think our group here has recognized that, especially the leaders.”
The Wild advanced to the second round of the playoffs in Dumba’s first two seasons, losing to eventual Stanley Cup winner Chicago each time. Since then, they’ve lost 25 of 35 total postseason games — although that has improved the past two seasons. In 2020-21, they took Western Conference finalist Vegas to seven games, one of the reasons for last season’s optimism, especially in light of a record-breaking regular season.
“It’s not good we lost in the fashion that we did, but to see guys pissed off and holding onto that and knowing that feeling and letting it really sink in,” Dumba said. “Because we had the will to win and maybe we didn’t have the will to prepare to win in those situations.”
That’s Dumba “being a leader,” coach Dean Evason said. “His mindset is right that we didn’t accomplish our goal. We know that. We know that we didn’t get the job done in the playoffs and, yeah, everybody’s fired up about getting started and hopefully getting back to that situation where we can push it again.”
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