SAN JOSE, Calif. – Mikko Koivu is one of the NHL’s top faceoff men, but in a rare game in which he struggled mightily in the circle, the Wild captain lost an awfully big one Saturday afternoon.
Late in a tie game, Joe Thornton smoked Koivu on a defensive-zone draw. The puck went right to quick-trigger Joe Pavelski, and the former Wisconsin Badger skated to the top of the left circle before sailing the winner past Darcy Kuemper from 40 feet away with 84 seconds left for a San Jose Sharks’ 4-3 victory.
“I was looking the one way around the traffic and he shot the other way,” a disappointed Kuemper said.
It was definitely a disappointing loss for the Wild, which twice rallied from one-goal deficits to tie the score and was seeking its first winning streak in more than three weeks. It looked as if Jarret Stoll’s goal with 7:50 left was going to force overtime until Pavelski’s dagger.
Koivu, who ranks 10th in the NHL with a .563 faceoff winning percentage, lost 16 of 21. The left-shot center took the draw from the right circle, his weak side. Unfortunately for the Wild, the right-shot Stoll, one of the NHL’s top faceoff guys during his career and winner of 11 of 22 Saturday, had just completed a shift 20 seconds before.
“I’ll put Mikko out there any time,” coach Mike Yeo said.
It was the second time in three games the Wild surrendered a late goal in a tie game and lost. The other came Wednesday in Anaheim when Rickard Rakell scored with 6:19 left.
That night, the Wild overstretched its shift and gave up a 3-on-2. This time, the defensive-zone draw occurred because Zach Parise, with pressure from Thornton, flipped a puck into his bench from along the glass.
“It’s kind of the Anaheim story,” said Stoll, who logged 16:22 of ice time, his most with the Wild. “Tie game late in the third on the road, you want to at least get a point. We’ve got to lock those games down. A playoff team, a good team, you’ve got to lock those games down.”
Stoll had scored his second goal in three games when he whistled Jonas Brodin’s rebound from between the circles past Martin Jones. It came after Marco Scandella pinched up the left wall to free a puck and set up Brodin.
It was a big tying goal because the Wild coughed up a 2-1 lead in the second by giving up goals to Joonas Donskoi and Joel Ward 1:38 apart. The Wild had control of the game, but the momentum turned when Scandella and Jared Spurgeon took penalties 2:20 apart. The score was tied on the Spurgeon penalty, atypical because the Wild has been one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams since early December.
The Wild was chasing from the outset. Only 93 seconds into the game, Tomas Hertl scored on a wraparound that deflected in off Brodin’s stick after Kuemper lost his net on a Pavelski shot.
But late in the period, Chris Porter tied the score by roofing Scandella’s rebound. Late in the period, Charlie Coyle gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal.
For the second time in two games, Coyle scored in the final seconds of a period, this time burying Spurgeon’s rebound past Martin Jones. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer challenged that Nino Niederreiter interfered with Jones, but it wasn’t even close. It was Coyle’s career-high-tying 12th goal in 48 games after he scored 11 times in 82 games last season.
The Wild returns home to play Arizona on Monday before a weeklong All-Star break. Minnesota went 1-3 on the road swing, but after it shut out Los Angeles on Thursday, Saturday’s loss especially stung.
“Real tough way to lose a hockey game,” Yeo said. “You have to think at that point you’re going to get a point.”