COLUMBUS, OHIO - If you want to make people believe you're a playoff contender rather than a pretender, you can't lose to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets are dead last in the NHL by 11 points! Yet the Wild, after five good games in a row, took a step back Tuesday night when it got outworked and outclassed during a 3-1 loss at Nationwide Arena.
Only Niklas Backstrom's 34 saves kept the score from being totally one-sided.
"We have to understand that we're playing playoff hockey right now," coach Mike Yeo said. "And I don't think we played that game like that. You play playoff hockey, you play like every play is the difference. There was too much complacency in our game. We need desperation every shift by every guy."
Since Dec. 13, the Wild and Blue Jackets are the two worst teams in the NHL. The Wild is 5-13-5 (15 out of a possible 46 points); the Blue Jackets 7-15-2 (16 out of a possible 48).
But the Wild had revived its game since the All-Star break, going 3-1-1 by getting pucks deep and executing structured forechecks. Against the Blue Jackets, the Wild did none of that, so it never tired out Columbus, which continually came with speed.
"We didn't get to the level we were at the last five games," Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck said.
Added Backstrom, "You think you're going in the right direction, and then I don't know the reason we take one step back."
And, of course, it wouldn't be a Wild loss without the power play laying one giant egg.
David Savard gave Columbus a 1-0 lead on his first NHL goal. Nate Prosser, one day after signing his first one-way contract and 11 minutes after getting into his first NHL fight, answered with his first NHL goal.
In the second period, the Wild showed flashes until Devin Setoguchi drew a high-sticking penalty.
The nerve of him, because power plays can't be declined. It's one thing when your power play doesn't score over and over and over again.
It's another when it consistently -- like every single game -- ruins momentum. It has reached the point where maybe teams pre-scout the Wild that way: If the Wild's dominating 5-on-5, take a penalty, watch the Wild trip all over itself on the power play and you're back in business.
"Nothing. Nothing there," Yeo said of an unsightly power play that he says must outwork penalty kills because of a lack of skill without Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse.
The Blue Jackets' 30th-ranked penalty kill easily doused the Wild. Moments later, Nick Schultz took one of his four penalties, and the league's 25th-ranked power play scored the go-ahead goal in seconds (Antoine Vermette).
"Just in the box too much," Schultz said.
In the third period, no rally would occur after the Wild's third line, most notably Setoguchi, got caught chasing. Savard threw a puck on net, Justin Falk and Prosser couldn't clear Colton Gillies and Jeff Carter, and Carter scored to make it 3-1.
"It's a game of 1-on-1 battles, and they got the better of us by a large margin in that department," Yeo said.
The loss ended a stretch of 20 of 29 games on the road for the Wild, which went 7-10-3 in those 20. In the past three, Minnesota went 1-1-1 with three goals scored. The Wild now returns home, where it will play seven of its next 10 and 18 of its final 29.
Yeo said the Wild can't just "settle on that fact, because nobody's going to give us anything. They don't care. We need to make it really hard on teams."
Added Clutterbuck, "It wasn't good enough tonight. There's only one way to respond to it."