Despite playing in their third game in four days, and factoring in the 11:30 a.m. puck drop that really felt like 10:30 due to daylight savings time, the Wild turned in one of their most complete efforts of the season Sunday against the Blackhawks.
And yet they weren't rewarded for it.
Eliminate the first five minutes and it likely would have been a very different story.
Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk allowed two goals on the first two shots he faced, prompting coach Bruce Boudreau to yank the Vezina Trophy favorite in a clash between two teams fighting for the Central Division lead and home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Boudreau made it clear after the game that his decision for the quick hook was performance-based, and not directly intended to provide a spark.
"No, it was on him," Boudreau said of Dubnyk. "You follow a goalie for 68 games, you sort of know his traits and his trends, and he didn't look like he was following the puck well."
While he may have had different thoughts about it internally, Dubnyk respected his coach's decision and handled it like a professional.
"That's up to Bruce," Dubnyk said. "It obviously got us a spark, and we got going. Not the way we wanted to start the game. I'm fine to stay in in that situation. I always want to stay in and battle, but that's completely up to him to decide what he wants to do. If he didn't think I was ready or he wants a spark, whatever it is, he's the coach. My job is to just be ready to stay in there and battle if I need to."
It's the second straight time the Wild spotted the Blackhawks two goals at the United Center — in front of a season-high 22,147 — but unlike the last instance on Jan. 15, they weren't able to complete the rally despite vastly outplaying them.
Minnesota finished the game with 72 shot attempts (44 of them on goal) while allowing only 43 attempts (22 on goal).
But it was Chicago that capitalized on its chances and Minnesota that didn't that made the difference.
The Wild had one power-play opportunity, and failed to record a shot on goal during it, spending more time chasing the puck after multiple cleared attempts than in the offensive zone. It might've been the easiest two-minute kill the Blackhawks have had all season.
There were many other notable examples, though.
Jason Zucker rang one off the pipe early. Charlie Coyle was robbed of a goal by Corey Crawford at the doorstep towards the latter stages of the second that kept it a 3-1 score. Shortly after, Nino Niederreiter was denied on a partial breakaway.
The Wild eventually got one to find the back of the net when Mikael Granlund struck 46 seconds into the third period that cut their deficit to 3-2. They followed that up by successfully killing off a penalty.
Just when you thought they would seize control of the game, Erik Haula was denied on a prime breakaway opportunity by Crawford, who finished with a season-high 42 saves.
"I've got to bury that," Haula said. "It should be overtime right now. At least."
Marian Hossa sealed the deal when he made it 4-2 with less than six and a half minutes to play, and the frustration was evident for the Wild knowing that not only two points were left on the table, but it was a four-point swing against a Blackhawks team that now trails by only a point for the division lead.
"We've got to find a way to capitalize and bury a few of those," said Eric Staal, who scored Minnesota' first goal. "If we did, felt like it would've been a lot more lopsided the other way."
A slow start and missed opportunities at timely moments of the game is not a recipe for success. And it stings a little more knowing how valuable points are at this time of year.
"Two of their best players get some action right away and it's 2-0," Haula said. "It's tough when you're away and you're down, chasing two goals, against this team. It's just hard. We've seen that previously in games. They're a great team, they're tough to beat."
It was the final meeting of the regular season between the two teams, but if there's a playoff date in the future, the Wild know how crucial a strong start will be.
"If we do face them again," Haula said, "that first goal is really important."