A friendly reminder to the Wild: Your season is on the line with your playoff hopes at stake Saturday night.
Apparently, the players didn’t get that memo Friday. And this time, there are no more chances.
The Wild blew a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a remarkable choke job Friday in a 6-1 loss to Edmonton that reduced the team’s margin for error to nil entering the final day of the regular season.
The lackluster Wild left itself vulnerable to the unpredictability of a one-game season thanks to a slipshod effort that left fans fuming and then mocking.
“I can’t really explain what happened,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “I’m not going to throw out any excuses. A loss is a loss.”
Not really. This one can’t be brushed aside so easily.
The Wild still can punch its playoff ticket with a victory in Colorado, or a Columbus loss to Nashville. Last-place Colorado can play loose and free, knowing it has nothing to lose. The Wild hits the ice knowing a loss could result in significant changes inside the organization.
No pressure, fellas.
Wild fans crammed inside Xcel Energy Center in anticipation of a win-and-in party celebrating the team’s first playoff appearance in five seasons. Instead, they booed the team off the ice at the first intermission with the Wild trailing 3-0.
The boos grew louder at 4-0. And even louder at 5-0.
At 6-0, fans got up and headed for downtown bars.
Can you blame them?
The game started ridiculously when Zenon Konopka fought Edmonton enforcer Mike Brown in an orchestrated bout on the opening faceoff. Which raises a question: Can someone please explain the purpose of a staged fight to start a hockey game?
And please don’t say it’s to energize the arena. If players or fans needed a fight to inspire them on a night when the team could clinch a playoff berth, that’s a sad commentary.
The blame falls squarely on Mike Yeo’s shoulders. Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger threw his fourth line into the starting lineup, hoping to bait the Wild into a confrontation. Rather than roll out his top line in response, Yeo puffed his chest and put Konopka’s line on the ice.
“We’re not going to get pushed around on our ice,” Yeo said. “We didn’t lose the game because of that.”
No, but why not rise above it and just play? The whole sideshow felt completely unnecessary and set a bad tone. It was a strange decision by a coach who could find himself unemployed if his team misses the playoffs.
Naturally, 25 seconds after Konopka and Brown stopped punching each other in the face, the Oilers scored on a slapshot by Corey Potter. Edmonton led 3-0 after one period. Ballgame.
How bad was it? The Oilers were 1-9 in their previous 10 games and probably already have their tee times booked.
Need more? In its 20 previous home games against Edmonton, the Wild was 19-1 and had outscored the Oilers 69-32.
Niklas Backstrom had never lost to Edmonton at home, compiling a 17-0 record, and a 1.34 goals-against average with four shutouts. He gave up three goals on five shots before being lifted for Josh Harding.
Fans alternated between serenading the Wild with boos and Bronx cheers the rest of the way. The night became such a buzzkill that owner Craig Leipold left his suite and watched the third period from general manager Chuck Fletcher’s booth in the press box.
Leipold didn’t commit nearly $200 million to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer to watch the playoffs from his sofa. He is a hypercompetitive, passionate owner who has one of the highest NHL payrolls and desperately wants to build a championship organization.
Patience is not Leipold’s strength so he probably won’t react kindly if the Wild completes a maddening late-season meltdown by missing the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine Yeo surviving in that scenario. And Fletcher’s status also could become tenuous; he gambled on a young coach.
Of course, the Wild could play an inspired game Saturday to advance to the playoffs. The Wild has been unpredictable.
Yeo likes to say that his team makes life hard on itself. The Wild never even gave itself a chance Friday.
Wild fans came for a party. The host forgot to show up.