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Wild suffers another road meltdown

  • Article by: Michael Russo
  • Star Tribune
  • December 26, 2006 - 10:28 PM

TORONTO - It's getting pathetic, really.

Another road game, another sorry, same-old-story performance for the Wild, which teased and teased Tuesday night before predictably disintegrating in the end to stretch its already-franchise-record road losing streak to nine games, this time by a 4-3 score to a slumping Maple Leafs team that was ripe for the taking.

"I thought we played just a terrible game, just a terrible game," fuming Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "I don't know what happened in the two days off there, but it has to be one of our worst games.

"Their mind wasn't there. Their mind was not on the game at all."

It's way past the time for management to consider institutionalizing its players for multiple personality disorder.

How else to explain the Wild's 13 regulation road losses (the most in the NHL) vs. the Wild's 14 home victories (the second most in the NHL)?

"We were close, but we've been close a lot of games on the road," Lemaire said. "We're missing the right play at the right time, an effort from our top players, penalties that we shouldn't get all sorts of stuff that just kills us."

The Wild is inching close to an uncontrollable spiral downward, and players are saying the same things they said a month ago. Exhibit A? Brian Rolston.

After the Wild surrendered Jeff O'Neill's winner with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left Tuesday, Rolston repeated an almost identical quote to one he uttered Nov. 21 in Montreal, saying: "It's the point where we have to make up our minds if we want to compete for the Stanley Cup. Bottom line, we have to start learning to win on the road. We won't be competing at the end of the season [if] we don't figure this out."

With the game deadlocked 2-2 after two periods -- Kurtis Foster and Mats Sundin traded first-period goals, and Wes Walz and former Red Wing High School and Gophers forward John Pohl traded second- period goals (Pohl's courtesy of a penalty shot after a horrific line change caused Brent Burns to trip him on a break) -- the Wild fell behind 3-2 less than four minutes into the third.

It came after a Burns crosschecking penalty. Toronto's Ian White flipped a puck at Manny Fernandez that the Wild goalie tried to glove instead of smother. With his dad, Wild scout and former Winnipeg great Thomas Steen watching from the Wild management booth, Alex Steen swarmed in to jam in the puck.

But the NHL's third-worst road power play finally stopped an 0-for-25 drought when Rolston redirected Todd White's pass past Andrew Raycroft, tying the score at 3-3 at 9:32 of the period.

Not surprisingly, the Wild relaxed after that. It sat back, as if to force the action into overtime, where it has a league-best 11 victories. Toronto came in waves, the Wild repeatedly got pinned in its own zone and momentum vanished when veteran defenseman Kim Johnsson took a holding-the-stick minor.

The Maple Leafs didn't score, but Fernandez was besieged the rest of the way.

"Took the wind out of us," Fernandez said of the penalty.

Finally, Mikko Koivu lost a faceoff to Sundin, and O'Neill buried Bryan McCabe's rebound.

"Burns gets two penalties and Johnsson, and they're all costly," Lemaire said. "You've got to be able to play with the score. If you keep getting penalties like that, it tells you something -- either you can't play under pressure or there's a problem somewhere."

The road wary Wild must somehow brush this off for tonight's game in Detroit.

"It's in the back of our minds," Fernandez said of the Wild's road woes. "It's weighing heavy on our shoulders. Somehow we have to block it out and start from fresh."

Michael Russo •

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