A week ago, the Wild was riding a 26-6-2 second-half record and the Las Vegas bookmakers had the surging team from St. Paul as the NHL’s third-biggest favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Devan Dubnyk entered the Hart Trophy conversation, and Mike Yeo was being asked about possibly resting players on the season’s upcoming final road trip.
Well, in typical Wild fashion, that three-game road trip that begins Tuesday night in Chicago will be needed to save the Wild’s season.
Maybe the press clippings and national attention went to the team’s head. Maybe the four-day break obliterated momentum from a five-game winning streak. Whatever it is, despite three final shots at home to either clinch a playoff berth or put itself on the verge of making the postseason, the Wild lost all three — the latest being a 2-0 body blow by the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night.
“They’re all big from here on out,” leading scorer Zach Parise said. “Tonight was big, two games ago was big. They’re all going to be big now.”
The Wild got shut out for the first time since Nov. 26 and lost by more than a goal for the first time since Jan. 19. It’s the first three-game losing streak under Dubnyk (0-2-1).
“We’re certainly not looking to lose our way in,” Dubnyk said.
Yeo felt there was “tension” in the Wild’s game knowing what was at stake. A victory in regulation or overtime, and the Wild would have clinched a playoff spot. Instead, the Jets pulled within two points on the Wild’s suddenly-fragile position as holder of the Western Conference’s top wild-card spot. The Kings lost to the Canucks in a shootout late Monday, so the Wild is three points up on a playoff spot.
“We still control where we finish. I think we’ll all take that,” Parise said.
The Wild, which has won 10 consecutive road games, closes the regular season at Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis — the three top teams in the Central Division.
“We’ve got to win,” winger Thomas Vanek said. “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.”
The Jets struck 4:12 in on a lucky bounce. A Blake Wheeler pass redirected in off Wild defenseman Marco Scandella’s skate on a power play after Chris Stewart was nabbed for a retaliatory swipe at Mark Stuart. Dubnyk felt it was a “pretty harmless scrum.”
“I’m not sure how we end up shorthanded in that situation at the start of a game with these implications,” Dubnyk said.
The Wild seemed to find its game early in the second period but couldn’t buy a goal. Parise got handcuffed at the goalmouth, Vanek hit the post and Ondrej Pavelec made five of his 32 saves on a power play.
Finally, after Jason Pominville missed the net on a backhand, a puck freed to Mark Scheifele after a Matt Dumba-Drew Stafford center-ice board battle. Stafford gave the Jets a 2-0 lead on a Tyler Myers rebound.
The Wild, a pedestrian 22-13-6 at home this season, went 2-2-1 on the final homestand of what fans hope was only the regular season. They were mostly even games (seven goals allowed), but the Wild’s offense dried up.
Vanek said it’s important the Wild takes “a deep breath.” Yeo noted how two years ago, the Wild won its last game in Colorado to make the playoffs and how it won a Game 7 last year to advance to the second round.
“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.”
Added Dubnyk: “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.”