Here we go again: The Wild is incapable of doing things the easy way.
Two years ago, all the Wild had to do was beat the awful Edmonton Oilers in Game 81. Niklas Backstrom was 17-0 all-time at home against the Oilers. The Oilers had won once in the past 20 visits to Xcel Energy Center.
Naturally, the Wild got pummeled 6-1 in its home finale and needed to win Game 82 the very next night in Denver to make the playoffs.
The Wild did.
Last year, the Wild had to rally from 2-0 and 3-2 first-round series deficits and win Game 7 to advance to the second round.
The Wild did.
This year, all the Wild needed to do was get a few more measly points in its final three home games. All it needed to do was win tonight in regulation or overtime to clinch a playoff berth.
Instead, the Wild lost 2-0 to the Winnipeg Jets for its third consecutive home loss in what has been a pretty average 22-13-6 home record this season (22 wins, 19 losses). Remember, the Wild started the season 7-1 at home, meaning it lost 18 of its final 33 home games.
When the schedule came out last summer, I pointed to this final stretch of games this season, particularly the final road trip to Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis as a potential landmine.
Well, here we go starting Tuesday night in Chicago on a second of a back-to-back.
Now, the Wild still controls its own destiny. It has a three-point cushion on a playoff spot.
The Wild has won a franchise-record 10 consecutive road games. Devan Dubnyk is 4-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.17 goals-against average and .967 save percentage since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit.
But the Wild has to find its game again. Just not the same team.
Tonight, the Jets, who will be a tough out if they make the playoffs, showed how big, fast and skilled they were. They were first to most pucks early and had the majority of the first-period chances.
They also struck 4:12 into the game on Blake Wheeler’s lucky bounce goal – a pass that deflected in off Marco Scandella’s skate.
The Wild wasn’t happy about the call by Justin St. Pierre. Scrum. Mark Stuart swipes at Chris Stewart’s goatee and Stewart retaliated with a punch. St. Pierre only took Stewart, and Dubnyk said he was confused by the call in a game of this magnitude with these implications.
Regardless, Yeo said even though it may have given the Jets a “headstart,” that power play shouldn’t have been the different in the game.
Yeo felt it was a tough, hard-fought game, a “pretty even game,” but the Wild just didn’t do enough to win. The Wild couldn’t buy a goal.
Yeo also felt there was some tension in the Wild’s game.
All the players said they were really amped up for the game and Yeo felt that, too, but he said it’s imperative to handle that emotion the right way.
“This wasn’t a game we lost because they weren’t excited to play or they didn’t want to win or they weren’t ready to put in everything they needed to do,” Yeo said.
“I know we have the group to do it, I know we have the leadership most importantly that will steer those guys in the right direction,” Yeo said. “There’s certainly no reason why we shouldn’t be still very confident here.”
Yeo didn’t have an update after the game on Nino Niederreiter, who was nailed by a Matt Dumba slap shot late in the third. He needed help from assistant athletic therapist John Worley getting down the tunnel.
My guess is Matt Cooke returns against the Blackhawks regardless and probably Jordan Schroeder. Yeo said he doesn’t think Jason Zucker will be ready. Zucker is supposed to take contact from teammates in full equipment in the morning with the hope of returning Thursday in Nashville.
Dubnyk said, “We’re certainly not looking to lose our way in. … We’ve got to win in Chicago and that’s all that matters. We’re a confident group. We’re comfortable with the way need to play.
“I know tensions are high around here and questions start flying around pretty quick after a couple losses. I don’t think we’re too worried as a group.”
Zach Parise said, “They’re all big from here on out. Tonight was big, two games ago was big. They’re all going to be big now
“Compared to where we were four months now, … we still control where we finish. I think we’ll all take that.”
Vanek said, “We were ready to play. We talked about having a better start. We get a so-so call against us. … They got break there.
“We generated enough to score. I had three, four good chances, which I’ve got to at least bury one to get the guys going. I didn’t do that.
“We’ve got to win. We know that. Sometimes I think this team’s better in must-win situations. I think it’s good for us to get back on the road where we, I don’t know, don’t get so pumped up before. It’s a tough road trip. But we know we have to do.”
Vanek said, “It’s important to play the right hockey at the right time of the year. We were there, we were close, we slipped a little bit and now we have to find it again.”
“We just have to take a deep breath and be a lot better [Tuesday].”
Talk to you Tuesday from Chicago.