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Updated: April 16th, 2014 3:40pm
Zulgad: For Wild to make playoff noise, high-priced vets must perform

Zulgad: For Wild to make playoff noise, high-priced vets must perform

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The numbers were impossible to ignore.

Not only were the Wild dispatched of easily in five games by Chicago in the first round of last season's playoffs, but their top players proved to be non-factors at the most crucial time of the year.

Winger Zach Parise scored one goal and was a minus-7. Center Mikko Koivu did not register a point and was a minus-6. Defenseman Ryan Suter was held without a point - not as big of a deal for a defenseman - but finished a disappointing minus-5.

Winger Jason Pominville played in the final two games and recorded only four shots, while finishing as a minus-1.

Pominville gets a pass for his lack of production. He had suffered a late-season concussion after a cheap shot by Los Angeles' Dustin Brown and did not return as the same player who went out of the lineup.

As for Parise, Koivu and Suter -- there were no excuses.

Yes, the Blackhawks were extremely talented, and the Wild were a huge underdog, but that doesn't mean more shouldn't have been expected of the three veterans.

Craig Leipold did not sign Parise and Suter to matching $98 million, 13-year contracts in July 2012 hoping that they would make the Wild better. The owner made the move expecting that they would be among the best players on the ice every night and that their performances would improve even more in the postseason.

Koivu is the Wild's captain and most often their first-line center. The tradeoff for this responsibility, and the fact he was making $5.4 million in 2012-13 and now is pulling down $7.3 million, is that he produces when it matters.

This brings us to the Wild's first-round playoff series this season which will begin Thursday night in Colorado.

We can go through every possible key for the Wild to upset the Avalanche - and a Minnesota victory would be considered an upset - but the one thing that should be expected is big-time production from Parise, Koivu, Suter and Pominville.

Pominville belongs in this group because he's healthy and next season will begin a new contract that will pay him $28 million over five years. Pominville didn't disappoint during the regular season, leading the Wild with 30 goals and 60 points in 82 games.

Parise was second with 29 goals, including 14 on the power play, and 56 points in 67 games, Koivu was third with 11 goals and 54 points in 65 games and Suter was fourth with eight goals and 43 points in 82 games.

Suter, who tied fellow defenseman Jared Spurgeon for the team-lead at a plus-15, not only played in every regular-season game but led the NHL by averaging 29 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time per game.

From all reports, it was the trio of Parise, Suter and Koivu who rallied the Wild during a team meeting in Phoenix late last month and stopped a spiral that appeared as if it might leave Minnesota out of the playoff picture.

This helped the Wild wrap-up the seventh spot in the Western Conference and the fifth postseason berth in franchise history.

That was only preliminary stuff.

Now the real work starts and Parise, Koivu, Suter and Pominville need to be the guys driving the bus, no matter how tough the matchups get. If they aren't, the Wild's season will come to a quick end for a second consecutive year and we'll know exactly where to place the blame.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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