Scoggins: Wild must ‘walk the walk’ to avoid familiar playoff outcome

Wild players looked flatter emotionally than a car tire with a puncture wound during the third period of Game 5.

Flummoxed by the Dallas Stars' power play, exasperated by the officiating, the Wild skated off the ice in a familiar predicament: Facing elimination in the first round of a playoff series.

Recurring themes from previous postseason flameouts have reappeared in this series like an inescapable shadow. Questionable coaching decisions. Squandered scoring chances. Inept special teams. Inability to seize control of a series.

And now the Wild find themselves with no wiggle room once again. Same as it ever was.

Trailing the Stars 3-2 in the series, the Wild must win the final two games to avoid another first-round fizzle, starting Friday at home in Game 6.

Will this time be different? This team?

Here is their moment to prove it.

"We've got to walk the walk now," alternate captain Marcus Foligno said.

Hockey playoffs are sports' equivalent of daytime soaps. They provide dramatic twists, weird moments, tension, feuds and colorful characters.

In that spirit, Foligno is eager after his early departure from Game 5. His unnecessary hit resulted in a game misconduct that took the life out of his team.

"I should go from villain to the hero real quick," he said. "I'm excited to get a chance to redeem myself and our team to redeem ourselves in a sense of just playing a full 60."

Elimination games require leaders to lead. For the Wild, that starts with coach Dean Evason, who looked as irritated as anyone with the officiating last game.

The Wild cannot afford to get sidetracked by the officials anymore. Just play. Bad calls happen for both teams. If games are being called tight, the Wild have to adjust and play more disciplined in imposing their physical presence.

Evason's lineup moves will be watched closely. His decision to change goalies in Game 2 backfired. Rather than ride Filip Gustavsson's hot hand, Evason demonstrated a case of overthinking a decision in turning to Marc-Andre Fleury. The Stars took advantage of that mistake.

Evason normally prefers continuity over line shuffling, but the Wild need a jolt after being blanked in Game 5. The Stars have hogtied Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy to limit their imprint on the series. Evason has to try something to ignite his two young scorers.

Evason said the coaching staff has debated lineup changes over the past few days. Thursday's short practice was dedicated primarily to special teams, which need resuscitation more than tweaks.

The Stars have scored nine power-play goals in five games. Three of those goals took 17 seconds off the clock combined, presumably a record of some kind.

The Wild's woeful showing on faceoffs has contributed to their woeful penalty kill. The loss of center Joel Eriksson Ek has left a gaping hole in many areas, but the Wild can't just throw up their hands and shrug.

It's hard to imagine a team having playoff success with poor special teams. That leaves the Wild with two options: Fix the penalty kill or stop taking penalties. They have done neither to this point.

One week ago, the Wild put together a complete performance in a 5-1 win in Game 3. Xcel Energy Center shook from noise as the Wild dominated the Stars to wrestle momentum back in their favor.

Then the volley came. The Wild didn't pounce on their opportunity in Game 4, and Game 5 was a total dud.

Now they're back in familiar territory. Win or pack for vacation.

"It's a wild ride," alternate captain Matt Dumba said, "and you just got to be ready for all of it."

He meant wild as in crazy and eventful, but the 'w' also could be capitalized. This has been a typical Wild playoff ride.

They still control the narrative. They get to decide how their team will be remembered.

"I know this group hasn't shown our full potential, our best game in the last couple," Dumba said. "But we're confident coming back home. Get things done, and anything can happen."