It was where Wild defenseman Nick Seeler wanted to be, posted up in front of goalie Devan Dubnyk as a layer of protection after boxing out a Maple Leafs forward.
But instead of getting rewarded for holding his ground, Seeler was punished.
A throw by Toronto center Nazem Kadri late in the third period bounced off Seeler’s chest and sailed behind Dubnyk, the second own goal off Seeler of the night that pushed the Maple Leafs ahead for good en route to a 5-3 win Saturday in front of 19,107 at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild now has its first three-game losing streak of the season and has dropped five of its last seven.
“Disappointing,” Seeler said. “Frustrating.”
Although the Wild could play the what-if game and bemoan a string of self-inflicted miscues — aside from the pair of goals that caromed off Seeler, the Wild’s lone lapse in discipline resulted in a power play goal for the Maple Leafs — the team felt this effort started to dig itself out of its current rut.
“It was as good of a game as we could play,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We didn’t get the puck luck.”
Dubnyk made the 18 saves he was supposed to, and the Wild’s execution was better — even if it could have delivered more often.
And the pluckiness that’s headlined stretches of success this season reappeared.
The Wild fell into a two-goal hole in the first. Center Auston Matthews wired a Mitch Marner pass by Dubnyk from inside the left faceoff circle 6 minutes, 6 seconds on the power play, and former Wild winger Tyler Ennis’ centering attempt caromed off Seeler in front 6:13 later.
Momentum started to turn in the Wild’s favor before the period ended thanks to center Eric Staal’s 10th goal of the season with 31 seconds left in the frame; he one-timed a feed from defenseman Ryan Suter by goalie Frederik Andersen.
Toronto looked leaky in the second, giving up a handful of odd-man looks, and the Wild converted when center Joel Eriksson Ek set up winger Jordan Greenway at 5:17 for a one-timer off a two-on-one rush.
The team came close to burying the go-ahead goal on several occasions.
Winger Jason Zucker had a redirect off a Mikael Granlund pass get blocked by Andersen; same with a shot by Staal.
But the Maple Leafs reclaimed the lead on a deflection off winger Zach Hyman’s glove at 14:38.
In the third, the Wild continued to generate quality pressure — despite blanking on two power plays to finish 0-for-3 — and Zucker finally prevailed at 9:38 when he pounced on a fanned attempt by Granlund.
“We need to make sure we’re capitalizing on all our chances,” Zucker said. “We had a lot that we could have scored. I mean, I had an empty net that I missed two minutes into the period. That can’t happen.”
Dictating most of the second and almost all of the third period, however, didn’t guarantee the Wild would persevere.
With 3:20 to go, Kadri’s shot deflected off Seeler.
“That’s a hope-throwing puck across the crease and still hit pads and went in,” Zucker said. “That’s unfortunate, but I think we can take a lot of good things out of that period and out of that game in general.”
Hyman added an empty-netter with 56 seconds remaining, and Andersen racked up 38 saves — 11 of which came against Zucker, Staal and Granlund.
“We played as good as you can play and just a couple tough bounces,” Dubnyk said. “If we keep up that effort, we’re going to win a lot of games.”