SAN JOSE, CALIF. - The Wild is up against it now.
Three games into a nightmare four-game road trip, the reality of the situation was plain for all who roamed the visiting locker room to see after Minnesota's 4-2 loss at Vancouver on Monday night.
In fact, the glum, eerie silence that was interrupted only by tape being removed and gear being thrown to the floor was reminiscent of almost exactly three years ago, when the Canucks lost a third consecutive road game at Xcel Energy Center to all but destroy their playoff chances.
The Wild won the Northwest Division that year. The team is now facing a third consecutive year as a playoff outsider.
"We have to win every game," Martin Havlat said. "We still have to believe. We're still [four] points behind the eight spot [before Tuesday's games]. We're still there."
The Wild is "still there," but the math is the math. If the Wild goes 12-0, that will leave the team with 101 points. Most believe it will take 95, maybe even 96 to make the playoffs.
For a down-in-the-dumps team that has lost three in a row and isn't playing anywhere close to the way it was playing during a 2 1/2-month stretch of mostly solid hockey, the Wild is going to have to find a solution quickly.
Unfortunately, judging by the immediate impact that Mikko Koivu had in his first game in more than three weeks, the answer all along could have been its captain.
Koivu's intense, relentless style is what the Wild lacked in recent games, not to mention somebody who can make a play and put the puck in himself.
"Since the Anaheim trip [last month], we were flat and didn't have the energy level to bring every night that this team must have to be successful," veteran Andrew Brunette said. "Mikko has that energy level every night."
The Wild outchanced the Canucks, even arguably in a first period when Vancouver built a 3-0 lead on one soft goal allowed by Niklas Backstrom and two power-play goals. With Koivu back, the Wild's forecheck resembled six weeks ago, although its weak power play ruined any chance of a comeback.
But Koivu displayed what he had been mostly bringing since a mid-December meeting with coach Todd Richards.
"You noticed him right away, you noticed him all game," Richards said. "He drives our team. I think we had another level we haven't seen in a while."
"This is what I've said all along," added Brunette, who benefited from Koivu's return with a goal and assist on Koivu's goal. "Mikko's integral to everything we do. You can patchwork that for a couple of games, but the longer he's out, you get exposed."
The Wild just doesn't have enough go-to guys to last an extended period without Koivu.
He got hurt at the worst possible time. The Wild was rolling when Koivu broke his finger. He missed 11 games, and the Wild lost seven of them (4-5-2).
For a team that was four points (i.e. two victories) out of a playoff spot after Monday's loss, would Koivu's presence resulted in conservatively two more victories?
We'll never know.
"You can't look behind, you've got to look forward," Koivu said. "We're still right there. We have another game in San Jose [on Thursday]. ... We can turn this around."
That will be easier said than done, especially for a team that looked mighty depressed Monday night.
"You've got to keep coming to the rink with a good frame of mind," said veteran John Madden, who faces his first missed postseason in his 11-year career. "This is when we find out if we're true professionals."
Added Richards: "It's going to be a tough road without a question. But it's something we can certainly accomplish."Etc.
• Defenseman Marco Scandella was recalled Thursday. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky (lower body injury) is questionable for Thursday's game.
• According to GM Chuck Fletcher, left wing Guillaume Latendresse (lower body injury) had a magnetic resonance imaging exam. He is out for Thursday's game and questionable for this weekend's games vs. Columbus and Montreal.