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Updated: April 18th, 2014 4:06pm
Zulgad: How mentally tough are the Wild now that stakes are raised?

Zulgad: How mentally tough are the Wild now that stakes are raised?

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Wild's season of highs and lows has left plenty of room for speculation about the mental makeup of this team.

Is this the club that nearly fell apart mid-season or the one that rebounded and muted the speculation that coach Mike Yeo might be fired? Is this the team that began reeling late in the season and appeared on the verge of blowing a playoff berth or the one that finished strong after a players-only meeting?

We're going to get the answer.

The Wild's 5-4 overtime loss to Colorado on Thursday in Game 1 of their opening-round postseason series could prove to be crushing.

Yeo's team didn't come close to playing a perfect game - third-period turnovers by Kyle Brodziak and Jared Spurgeon led to Avs goals - but they were up by two after two periods and played well enough to steal Game 1 on the road.

It wasn't so much the defeat that will test the Wild's resiliency as it is the way they lost.

Give Colorado all the credit you want for its comeback, but the fact is the Wild had this game in their grasp and let it slip away in excruciating fashion. There is no other way to describe it when you give up the tying goal with 13.4 seconds left and the winning goal in overtime.

Fourteen seconds from stealing home ice and getting a massive shot of confidence and instead you are down 1-0.

The Wild will spend Friday trying to forget what happened, while cleaning up their mistakes and focusing on the fact that they rebounded against a physical attack from the Avalanche in the first period and took control in the second.

Will it matter?

That question is impossible to answer.

The Wild opened their first-round series at Chicago last season by getting an out-of-this-world goaltending performance by Josh Harding. They forced the Blackhawks to overtime before losing, 2-1.

Despite this, the feeling from any veteran hockey observer afterward was this: The Wild have no shot and will be lucky to win a game.

That isn't the feeling this time.

Overall, Colorado is fast, skilled and a better team than the Wild. But in the NHL playoffs that often doesn't matter. The 2003 Wild, a far less-talented team than this version, rallied from 3-1 deficits to beat the Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks in the opening two rounds.

Statistically, the Wild's odds of upsetting Colorado would have been given a huge boost if they had won Thursday. Teams that win the opener in a best-of-seven playoff series in the NHL have an all-time series record of 417-190, or 68.7 percent.

An empty-net goal here or a mistake eliminated there, and we're writing about an impressive win by the Wild and whether Colorado might be in trouble entering Game 2 of the series Saturday.

Instead, the Wild must regroup and attempt to tie the series before Monday's game at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild proved Thursday that they have the ability to outplay the Avalanche at times. But does Yeo's club have the mental toughness to bounce back from a heart-breaking defeat in the postseason?

We're about to find out.

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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