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Wild officially eliminated from postseason with 5-2 loss at Colorado

It’s been a rough season for the Minnesota Wild, full of injuries to key players, big victories despite those injuries, and inexplicable losses that ultimately kept the team from making its fourth straight postseason tournament.

In the end, they were undone early by a 5-10-4 start from which they could never recover, but you can’t say they didn’t go down fighting. They’ve been playing winning hockey ever since, and were still a longshot to make the postseason.

That officially died on Tuesday in Denver, where the Wild rallied from an early two-goal deficit against playoff-bound Colorado before absorbing a 5-2 loss at Ball Arena that officially eliminated them from the playoffs with four regular-season games remaining.

Battling Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov for the NHL points lead, Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon had a hat trick and assist as Colorado took a 5-2 second period lead and never looked back.

“Obviously, tonight’s tough,” Wild veteran blue liner Zach Bogosian told reporters who traveled to Denver for the game. “They’re a good team, and a player like MacKinnon — he can take over a game, and he showed tonight why he’s a world-class player.”

Kirill Kaprizov scored his 42nd goal of the season, and Matt Boldy scored his 27th to tie the game 2-2 after one period, but the Wild couldn’t stop the NHL’s best offense, which entered the game averaging a league-best 3.71 goals a game, or their best player.

MacKinnon beat Filip Gustavsson on three breakaways and had the first assist when Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring with a power-play goal 4:34 into the game to give him 51 goals and 137 points this season. That’s two points behind Kucherov, who had three assists in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 victory over visiting Columbus to give him 139.

The Wild have four regular-season games remaining, on the road against Vegas, San Jose and Los Angeles, then the final at home against Seattle on April 18.

“Nothing changes,” coach John Hynes told reporters at Ball Arena. “An elite player made some elite plays tonight. I think with the other components of the game, that was a huge difference. I’m not down on the team.

“I don’t like the fact that we lost the game, but we’ve got to continue to compete hard and play and find ways to win.”

Gustavsson made 28 saves for the Wild. Cale Makar also scored a goal, and Alexandar Georgiev stopped 20 of 22 shots for the Avalanche, which swept the season series from their Central Division rival (0-3-1).

The Wild’s points ceiling is now 91, one fewer point than Vegas, holding the last playoff spot in the West, already has. Seventh-place Los Angeles had 93 points before their late game at Anaheim. They entered with a slim chance at the postseason because they were 7-3-3 since March 10, and 32-21-5 since Hynes replaced Dean Evason as head coach on Nov. 28.

But limited by $14.7 million in dead salary cap space, the result of buying out the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in 2021, the Wild started the season with no margin for error or misfortune — and immediately had their share of both.

They lost captain Jared Spurgeon before the season started, getting him on the ice for only 16 games all season because of back and hip injuries, then had to weather injury absences by such key contributors as Kaprizov, Boldy, Gustavsson, Mats Zuccarello, Jonas Brodin and Marcus Foligno.

Despite that, they played some good hockey, twice beating Eastern Conference leader Boston with depleted lineups in December, and scoring seven third-period goals to rally past then-NHL points leader Vancouver, 10-7, in February.

But the Wild also lost some costly head-scratchers, most notably a 6-0 loss to Arizona and 3-2 setback against Anaheim, both at Xcel Energy Center, when they were making headway in January.

Asked why he thinks the Wild finished short this season after making the playoffs the past three seasons, veteran defenseman Brodin said, “I don’t know right now. I have no clue. I haven’t thought about that. We’ll see after the season. We’ll play hard the rest of the season and then see after.”

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