Updated: May 8th, 2013 12:32am
Myers: Sitting in a 3-1 hole, Wild left to ponder the 'what ifs'

Myers: Sitting in a 3-1 hole, Wild left to ponder the 'what ifs'

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota sports fans love a good if. Come summer, they head to the cabin, sit around the bonfire, and gladly recount the many 'ifs' that define life as a rooter for our teams in the Land of Lakes.

If Brett Favre had just tucked the ball and run against the Saints ...

If Joe Mauer's hit down the line in Yankee Stadium hadn't been called foul ...

If Bobby Jackson would've done his own homework ...

If Gary Anderson makes one freaking field goal ...

If Lou Holtz hadn't seen the Knute Rockne story when he was a kid ...

And the list goes on and on, which makes this suddenly-endangered Minnesota Wild season so perfect for sports fans all across the State of Hockey. After Tuesday's 3-0 win by the Blackhawks, giving Chicago a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, only the most hard-core Minnesota optimist could feel this season is anything but lost.

Since that scorching July day when we learned that the game's top to free agents were coming to Minnesota, there's been talk of the Stanley Cup following them in quick order. It may happen someday, but this doesn't look like a year for a parade. Instead, it's been a season, and a playoff series, that has perfectly contributed to the collection of great sports ifs.

If there had been a full NHL season instead of this lockout-shortened 48-game sprint ...

If NHL realignment had happened a year earlier and the Wild hadn't had the worst travel schedule in the league ...

If Josh Harding had been healthy all season, and been able to give Niklas Backstrom a few more nights off ...

If Dany Heatley had just decided to skate away from that post-game scrum in San Jose ...

If Jason Pominville hadn't taken a vicious elbow to the head late in the season and missed the first three playoff games ...

If the Wild had been able to beat lowly Calgary and Edmonton at home in the last week of the regular season, thereby avoiding powerful Chicago in round one ...

If Backstrom hadn't gotten hurt in warmups before game one, thereby thrusting Harding back into the starting role ...

If Jason Zucker's overtime shot in game one had been an inch lower, and had won the game instead of hitting the crossbar ...

If Harding had been able to finish game four, rather than giving way to Darcy Kuemper after yet another injury affected the Wild's goalie corps ...

If the Wild were not the only team in the playoffs without a power play goal, after going 0-for-6 on Tuesday and 0-for-15 so far in the series ...

So many ifs. So many ways that things could've been different. And yet, here we are. The Wild head back to Chicago facing elimination against an opponent that was not only the NHL's best throughout the regular season, but has proven capable of winning any way the Wild want to attack them.

In game three, the hitting worked well enough for the Wild to eke out an overtime win and bring a ray of hope to the masses in the State of Hockey. On Tuesday Chicago countered, throwing checks, blocking shots and taking advantage of the chaos in the Wild crease, and the advantage just as quickly was gone.

"I feel like our team can play a number of different ways," said Patrick Sharp, who scored two of Chicago's three goals on Tuesday. "People want to make a big deal of the hits. That's fine, we've won physical games before. We've won games with our speed and playmaking ability. So whatever the type of game is out there, I feel confident in our guys."

It's a different story in the Wild locker room, where they packed for another flight to Chicago (their third, for three road games) with confidence clearly lagging, and an uncertainty about who will be in goal, on the power play, etc.

Pominville's return to the lineup was one bit of good news. And the consistent roar of the crowd, early on, when the Wild were dominating the game and all things seemed possible was encouraging. Then the Blackhawks scored, and Harding limped off and Kuemper missed the first shot he faced, and by the third period, all was quiet in downtown St. Paul.

The Wild fired dozens of shots, and less than half of them even reached the Chicago net. It left Wild coach Mike Yeo with little to do but credit a superior opponent.

"That's the thing, certainly there's some adjustments you can make and some things that you can look to do a little bit differently, but at the end of the night, we had 68 shot attempts and only 25 of them got through," Yeo said. "That's a credit to them. They blocked shots. They did a good job there. Execution-wise we weren't at our best tonight and so, again, you go into this game and you look at what we did well and you make sure you continue to do those things and we just have to make sure we identify what we need to do better and be ready to do it."

The series isn't over, and the two times in Wild history that the franchise has won a playoff series, they trailed 3-1 after a loss at home, then won the next three. So if the Wild can find a way to win on Thursday night in Chicago, and if ... if ... if ...

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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