NASHVILLE – We’re three games into the season, and the Wild has yet to win a game, has lost its second-line center and now its No. 1 goalie.
This wasn’t exactly the start the Wild envisioned.
One game after Charlie Coyle sprained a knee, goaltender Niklas Backstrom was injured in the first period of Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators when former teammate Eric Nystrom crashed into him after being tripped on a breakaway.
The back of Backstrom’s right leg slammed hard against the goal post. Backstrom, who has had a myriad of lower-body injuries the past four seasons including before last year’s playoffs, limped off with another undisclosed one. He will be reevaluated Wednesday but was limping noticeably after the game.
Josh Harding entered cold off the bench and in the unenviable position of having to face a penalty shot. Nystrom, sent to the minors by the Wild in 2011 and eventually traded to Dallas, capitalized to score the eventual winner in a game the Predators actually trailed by a goal at one juncture.
“I’ve never seen that before, a goalie having to come off the bench and jump into a penalty shot,” said coach Mike Yeo, who has had to deal with his share of goalie drama during his two-years-plus tenure.
The Wild is 0-1-2 after losing its first Central Division matchup ever. This was the first of three consecutive games against divisional foes. Like in its previous two losses, games where at least the Wild earned a point, the Wild felt it deserved better.
The Wild outplayed the Predators for large stretches, gave up almost nothing at even-strength and tilted the ice in terms of scoring chances until running out of gas in the third.
But other than power-play goals by Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon, the Wild again couldn’t score in the clutch again.
“It’s frustrating,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “You can’t be happy, you can’t be satisfied. We’re doing a lot of good things, just not getting wins. We’ve got to learn. Good teams know how to get wins out of situations like this.”
The Wild took a 1-0 lead early in the first when Mikko Koivu set up Parise with a one-time goalmouth pass for a tap-in. But 10 seconds later, Kyle Brodziak took an interference penalty. Twenty-one seconds after that, Koivu a tripping penalty.
On a long 5-on-3, Filip Forsberg scored his first NHL goal and Colin Wilson sniped a bullet over Backstrom’s right shoulder 39 seconds apart. The game unraveled quickly after that.
Just 5½ minutes later, defenseman Keith Ballard, who had a tough game, couldn’t corral Justin Fontaine’s bank pass off the side boards at the blue line. He fanned on a dump-in, resulting in a retreating foot race with Nystrom.
Ballard says he poked Nystrom’s stick and Nystrom toe-picked into Backstrom, who was injured. In came Harding … after the penalty shot was awarded.
“Felt pretty good to get a game-winner, especially against Minnesota,” Nystrom said. “That’s a team that I kind of had some unfortunate circumstance with and wasn’t particularly happy with the way I got treated there.”
Nino Niederreiter set up Spurgeon on the power play in the second, but Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne didn’t give up another goal despite being peppered at times.
“But we can’t keep saying that,” Yeo said, referring to being stymied by goalies.
The Wild’s winless. Adversity is creeping in. Will negativity?
“You’ve got to believe that the way we play, it’s going to get more wins than losses,” Koivu said. “I think we played well in each and every game. We just have to be stronger in certain areas and at the end just find a way to win a hockey game.”