By Brian Stensaas
As it tends to after a loss, the Wild locker room cleared out pretty quickly tonight after the team allowed a 3-2 Coyotes victory. It's been awhile since the team felt this way. The last time Minnesota lost in regulation was Day 2 of 2010, a 5-3 loss to the Jacques Lemaire-led New Jersey Devils.
Until tonight, the Wild had been 8-0-1 since then, the lone blemish coming in a shootout to the Red Wings on Jan. 21.
The Wild took a 1-0 lead early in this one, when Martin Havlat's slap shot bounced off Ilya Bryzgalov - one theme of the night - and was popped into the net by Guillaume Latendresse just 4:46 into the game. After that, it was quite some time before the fans could celebrate.
Minnesota, up at one point 8-1 in shots, wound up losing that battle 9-8 after 20 minutes. It got off 10 shots on net in the second period, but it could have been more. Players kept looking to make plays to teammates gunning for an open net. Bad idea.
Passing up shots on a rebound-happy goalie is not what you want to do ever - but especially with precious time left in the season.
Don't look now, folks, but just 23 games remain after tonight. And of those, 11 are on the road including three straight weeks of Thursday-Friday back-to-backs on the road in March.
Translation: It's go time.
Niklas Backstrom, in his first game action since Jan. 23, was pretty good for the Wild in net tonight. The game-winner was not his fault. Radim Vrbata's shot never even made it to Backstrom. Instead, Vrbata's shot hit the side of the net - "by one or two [feet]," Backstrom said - went flying into the air, bounced off Backstrom's back and fell just beyond the red line.
That made it 3-1, and though Martin Havlat was out as a fourth forward for about the last four minutes of the game and did score with 2:28 left, the Wild just didn't have it.
(Random note here - I've just realized there are a slew of Olympics-related tags on this blog. If it was maybe 6:15 instead of 11:15 right now I'd try to come up with something clever (ski jumping, curling, ice dancing ...) to describe tonight's game. But - well - I'll leave the International stuff to the experts.)
OK - some notes on this game before I sign off until, whoa, practice tomorrow which begins in 11 hours and 45 minutes:
-Latendresse's goal was his 19th of the season, and 17th since being traded to the Wild.
-Zidlicky now has 30 assists this season, and 200 in his career
-The Wild failed to get at least one point from the Coyotes in the season series for the first time ever
-Minnesota fell to 19-10-4 in one-goal games
I know that's not a whole lot to chew on, but maybe by Sunday when I've been doing this full-time for a whole week (and, um, with a 2pm start) I'll be better.
Until tomorrow afternoon, adios Russoville.