DALLAS – Trying to cool down in a still-overheated locker room, frustrated players tore off equipment and slam-dunked balls of tape into garbage cans.
There were no smiles, no celebratory techno music.
The Wild experienced the unfamiliar feeling of a loss Friday night, but slowly but surely they tried to brush off the 5-3 defeat to the Dallas Stars and look ahead to Saturday, when the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings visit St. Paul.
“This is one loss. We just won seven in a row before that,” coach Mike Yeo said after the Wild’s first defeat since March 12. “We’ll push this one aside and just get ready for [Saturday].”
“That’s the good thing. Game coming up,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “Forget this quick and move on.”
Still, one can bet players were still seething on that flight back to Minnesota after a vexing game in which frustration boiled over late. Players were first angry with themselves for falling behind two goals for the first time in 12 games. Then, they were ticked at referees Dan O’Halloran and Frederick L’Ecuyer for giving Dallas a two-minute 5-on-3 early in the third period. Finally, anger detoured to the Stars, highlighted by Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka trying to deposit Reilly Smith into the Minnesota bench.
“Frustration definitely took over,” Yeo said.
After the Wild recovered from a poor start and rallied on goals by Devin Setoguchi and Jared Spurgeon, Erik Cole broke a 2-2 tie 62 seconds into the third after the Wild’s third line, particularly Dany Heatley, got caught too deep in the offensive zone.
“We were in a good position and unfortunately we came out and let them get that rush chance and then we’re chasing after that,” Yeo said.
The chase became even more uphill when 58 seconds after Cole scored, Koivu tripped Eric Nystrom. That was compounded when Ryan Suter was dinged for cross-checking future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr across the elbow.
“A 3-2 game, and they call that,” Suter said. “… It’s too bad the refs don’t have to answer to anyone. I don’t want to get fined, but I feel we’re accountable. If we do something wrong, we have someone looking after us. I feel the refs need to have the same accountability.”
Ten seconds after the penalties, Ray Whitney set up Jamie Benn for an easy goal that beat rookie Matt Hackett for a 4-2 lead. That would ultimately become the winning goal.
The shame of the loss was twofold. First, the Wild’s comeback. “Coming into the third, we felt really good about how we started taking the game over,” Kyle Brodziak said.
Secondly, Hackett, who was spelling Niklas Backstrom, was playing a solid game to that point. He had no chance on four of the five goals. Late in the second, after Spurgeon’s tying goal, the 23-year-old made a series of clutch saves on Benn. He then robbed Nystrom with an elastic pad save.
But there were too many Wild turnovers in the defensive zone. Its penalty kill, usually so good, gave up three goals.
“We were shorthanded too many times,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “Whether it was our fault or not, it doesn’t matter. We ended up there somehow.”
The Stars had not played since losing 7-4 to the Wild on Monday. They spent all week prepping for the rematch, so the Wild knew it would get Dallas’ best game.
“We just have to keep with the same program,” Brodziak said. “We’ve been playing a lot of good hockey as of late. We had a setback tonight. The good thing is we have a chance to get right back on the horse [Saturday].”