Missing the playoffs has hit Niklas Backstrom harder than a puck to the facemask.

It's evident in his body language.

"You play for the team," he explained. "You don't make the playoffs, you can't leave the season with a smile on your face."

The fifth-year goaltender from Helsinki, Finland, bounced back from a rocky 2009-10 season to play steady and often dominant hockey this season, although some of the spark has been missing from his eyes lately.

Asked about the emotional carnage to a player who helped backstop the Wild to the division title four years ago, he forced a half-smile.

"I think it was when you found out that you were not going to be in the hunt this year, like two or three weeks ago, it was really tough," he said Sunday before his team defeated the Dallas Stars 5-3 in the season finale. "You come in with high expectations, you believe in what we are doing, and then you find out three or four weeks before the end of the season that you are not going to be in the hunt. It's really tough."

He confessed to "a couple bad games" through the first months of the season, "but otherwise, until March, I think I played the best hockey I ever played."

Backstrom, 32, tackles questions head-on, exactly the way he prefers to face opposition shooters.

Maybe that's because, from his position in the nets, he sees everything.

Too often this season, he has seen the other team outshooting the Wild.