St. Paul, Minn. — In the end, there were no bonfires or upside down cars outside the Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Wild. After all, there was a driving rain falling and it was nearly midnight. But indoors, there was joy.
The Minnesota Wild have advanced into the conference championships in only their third season of play. Even their coach, Jacques Lemaire, says he never dreamed in a million years the Wild would come so far so fast. The team has made many folks happy at the downtown end of St. Paul's West Seventh neighborhood. That's where several new watering holes have popped up to cater to the hockey fans. The newest is called the Eagle Street Grille and it's less than 100 yards from the door of the arena.
That's where Chuck Langness of Luck, Wisc., was cutting a cigar at about nine o'clock, just before face off.
"We want to see the impossible happen. The first time anybody's gone three and won two in a row -- and win the whole thing," he said.
Langness was sitting with Brian Bond of Fargo, who was in St. Paul attending the same conference. Bond says he likes the Wild's unrelenting style of play.
"The tenacity that they go after the puck. And they're fast. They're so much quicker than the other teams. That's really the exciting part to watch," according to Bond.
As the game begins, the dining room is nearly empty. It has no televisions. The bar is nearly full, but surprisingly quiet as most attention focuses on the game.
The first period is a defensive struggle and it ends in a scoreless tie.
Bond and Langness have finished their smoke and are enjoying the game.
"No one's scored. Let 'em score, then someone'll have an advantage. It's even. What do you think, Chuck?" Bond asks.
"I think we're in good shape. If we hold them in the first period, we're in good shape," says Langness.
In the second period, Wild goaltender Dwayne Roloson is screened on a slap shot by Vancouver defenseman Matthias Ohlund and the tie is broken.
It takes only one minute and one second on the game clock for the Canucks to score again. Now the Eagle Street Grille is so quiet television announcer Mike Goldberg is audible.
A Pascal Dupuis goal puts the Wild on the scoreboard and the second period ends with Minnesota trailing 2-1. Leaning against the bar, Mike Jensen is cautiously optimistic.
"It's all looking pretty close right now. I think it's anybody's game right now," he figures.
In a back booth, Cory Sullivan says Minnesota should be a little rougher in the third. "I think the Wild need to get a lot more aggressive. Vancouver got more aggressive. They should have had five or six penalties that are not getting called, so we have to do the same thing. Get the sticks up, get the gloves in the face, do whatever you've got to do to get guys out of position and score some goals," is his advice.
It's 11 o'clock now. At the table of Langness and Bond, game analysis has degenerated.
"Score. Gotta score. Shoot the puck."
Simple advice, but sage in its own way. In the third, the Wild shoot. And score. Three times.
In the Eagle Street Grille -- and all over the State of Hockey -- there is joy.
Some find that -- in the throes of ecstasy -- the ability to analyze has abandoned them.
The Western Conference Finals begin at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday evening at 6 o'clock with the Minnesota Wild hosting the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.