The Wild may have the most points in the NHL since mid-January, but this is still the Wild.
Historically, the franchise rarely makes things easy, so it should come as no shock that with a chance to put itself on the brink of the playoffs, the Wild has lost two games in a row for the first time since Jan. 19-20.
But Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the desperate Detroit Red Wings came in a shootout — a marathon, eight-round shootout where video review confirmed Darren Helm’s shot hit the inside of Devan Dubnyk’s left pad just over the goal line, so the Wild at least got a point after Zach Parise’s second goal of the game in the third period forced overtime.
“Any point you get right now is big,” said coach Mike Yeo, whose team owns a four-point edge for the top wild-card spot with four games left. “That’s the frustrating thing about the shootout. It’s a loss. It’s feels like a loss, but I don’t want to say it’s a coin flip, but it can go either way.”
Yeo’s point is the loss — only Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek scored for the Wild — would have a different tone if the Wild could have scored once more in the skills competition. The postgame chatter would have been on a big third-period-tying power-play goal as opposed to the team’s average play in the first two periods and a 1-for-6 power play that didn’t score on a 48-second 5-on-3 in the second.
“They were better than us for the first two periods, no question,” Parise said. “We started to play a little simpler, a little smarter in the third.”
It didn’t help that captain Mikko Koivu, tied for second in NHL history with 39 shootout goals, was a late scratch because of a scratched cornea. He made it through warmups but couldn’t play due to what sounds like an off-ice injury. Yeo said Koivu “should be absolutely fine by” Monday’s regular-season home finale against Winnipeg.
But his absence sent his line with Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart into flux. Erik Haula, scratched Thursday, started in Koivu’s 5-on-5 spot and Mikael Granlund took Koivu’s top power-play unit spot. By the second, Haula and Charlie Coyle changed places. By the third, Haula was demoted to the fourth line and ultimately benched.
“I thought he looked tired tonight. I’m not sure why,” Yeo said.
Parise got things started with 5:53 left in the first period, but just 1:52 later, Riley Sheahan tied it.
The Wild had a chance to take the lead in the second when Detroit took back-to-back penalties, which included a Wild two-man advantage. Parise, Pominville, Granlund, Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba stayed on for two-plus minutes and didn’t record a shot.
To add insult, Gustav Nyquist gave Detroit a 2-1 lead on a power play. The Wild’s power play ranks 28th, connecting 15.6 percent of the time.
“It’s been a struggle all year,” Suter said. “We have to get it going. It doesn’t do any good to talk about the past chances. We have to focus moving forward. … We have to practice it more for sure and we have to be better at it.”
Parise also said, “It’s not going to do any good for me to say anything. It wasn’t good enough. We’ve got to practice it.”
Yeo said it was human nature for Parise and Suter, two No. 1 power-play mainstays all year, to say that, but “we’ve spent considerable amount of time on our power play. I will say that for sure. I will also say that because of that we’ve also lost other areas of our game in that practice.”
Regardless, Parise tied the score at 2-2 in the third with his team-leading 32nd goal and team-leading 10th power-play goal. The Wild failed on two power plays to win the game after.
“You can look at it that way or you can look at it that they scored the goal that tied the game up for us,” Yeo said.