DALLAS – This was one of those painful losses that can linger if the Wild doesn't figure out a way to bury it immediately.
Unfortunately, the team on tap for the Wild to redeem itself against is the running-hot St. Louis Blues, who can move atop the NHL standings if they beat the Wild on Sunday night.
"That's the big challenge. How do you respond to a loss like this?" Wild coach Mike Yeo said after his team coughed up a one-goal, third-period lead Saturday night to lose 4-3 to the Dallas Stars. "This was a big game, it was an emotional game. Are we flat [against St. Louis] or do we come out with the right purpose?"
As the Wild flew from Dallas back to Minnesota in the wee hours of Sunday morning, there probably wasn't a player or coach who didn't stop thinking about what could have been.
Veteran defenseman Keith Ballard had to be chief among him. His turnover led to Erik Cole's winning breakaway goal with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left.
"Just a disappointing way to lose a hockey game," Yeo said.
Ballard was attempting to slide a pass along the blue line to partner Clayton Stoner. Cole picked off the pass and was off to the races with Ballard and Stoner, late in their shift, having no chance to catch up.
"Bad read on my part," Ballard said. "I don't know if I telegraphed it, but I misjudged how high he was."
It was costly loss, the Wild's 19th in its past 20 visits to Dallas (1-14-5).
Kyle Brodziak's goal 83 seconds into the third period gave the Wild a 3-2 lead. A victory would have given the Wild a comfy, seven-point lead over eighth-place Dallas and eight-point lead over ninth-place Phoenix.
Instead, the wheels came off and the Wild's lead over Dallas is three points.
A minute after Brodziak's goal, Matt Cooke took a tripping penalty. The Wild killed that off, but four minutes later, rookie Erik Haula, who scored his first career shorthanded goal to tie the score in the first period, drove the net hard and bulldozed Kari Lehtonen.
The goalie hit his head on the crossbar, came up with blood on his face and what coach Lindy Ruff said was a likely concussion. Lehtonen had to leave for Tim Thomas' Stars debut, and Haula was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct.
Replays showed Haula was tripped by Cody Eakin.
"I'm not sure what else a player can do. You're trying to score a goal," Yeo said. "… There's really nowhere for him to go."
The Wild came so close to escaping the major. Darcy Kuemper made eight saves, but with 26 seconds left on the power play and on Dallas' ninth shot, Tyler Seguin completed a three-point night with the tying goal.
"It's too bad we couldn't finish [the kill] off," Brodziak said.
Four minutes later, Ballard's gaffe led to Cole's winner.
"That mistake was kind of coming all night long," Yeo said. "We turned over way too many pucks. We gave up way too many odd-man rushes."
Par for the Wild's course in Dallas, the Stars struck on their first shot 31 seconds into the game on Jamie Benn's snapshot before Haula tied it. In the second, Alex Chiasson gave Dallas a 2-1 lead four seconds into a power play. With the Wild being outplayed, Yeo called timeout and the Wild responded by dominating the rest of the period.
Matt Moulson, making his Wild debut, drew his second power play and then assisted on Charlie Coyle's tying power-play goal, Coyle's first goal since Jan. 11.
But the Wild handed the game back to Dallas after Brodziak's goal.
"We battled really hard in this game," Yeo said. "Our guys put a lot into it, but we just didn't do it smart enough."