Mike Yeo warned “you can lose it as quickly as you can gain it.”
The Wild coach sounded the alarm bells all week. He knew it would be a challenge to rediscover momentum that would naturally cease during an oddly-timed four-day break after huge back-to-back, back-to-back victories.
The Wild showed no quit Thursday night against the New York Rangers. But it was doomed by periodic spurts of sloppiness and lost 3-2 to the Eastern Conference’s top and maybe deepest team, which clinched the Metropolitan Division and won its league-high and franchise-record 26th road game.
“They’re a good team,” Zach Parise said of a Rangers squad that is balanced with speed, size, a tremendous blue line and a future Hall of Fame goaltender. “Let’s give them a little credit. It’s not just that we had a slow start.”
The Wild wasn’t sharp in the first period though, especially uncharacteristically in the defensive zone, and fell two goals behind. The Wild wasn’t disciplined in the second period, being forced to kill five minors, albeit successfully, in the last 11 minutes of the period. And in the third period, after working so exhaustively to rally back and tie the score at 2-2 on Thomas Vanek’s 21st goal and eighth in the past 12 games, the Wild surrendered the eventual winning goal to J.T. Miller one shift and 55 seconds later.
Shifts right after goals for and against are always crucial.
“That hasn’t happened to us at all really,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said of the bad shift after Vanek’s goal.
In a playoff-type atmosphere, the Wild felt it slowly took over the game after the first period, especially 5-on-5. The penalty kill gave the Wild an incredible chance in the second to win, but in the end, Yeo was worried it would be hard for the Wild, which had won five in a row, to recreate the desperation level it had before the hiatus. It proved true.
The good news, Yeo said after the “frustrating loss,” is the Wild ultimately discovered the type of pressure and urgency it needed to play with in the second period and he’s confident it will be able to rebound.
The Wild’s seven-point playoff cushion became five with the Kings overtaking the now-9th-place Jets. The five-game homestand ends Monday against the Jets before the Wild closes the regular season with road games at Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis.
You could see in the first five minutes the remnants of the Wild layoff were there. It wasn’t sharp in its own end, and Dominic Moore gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead after Vanek’s blind, backhanded pass was picked off by Carl Hagelin.
On a power play, Rick Nash scored his 41st goal on one of the rare bad goals Dubnyk has allowed. But in the second, Jason Pominville scored his first goal in 10 games when Matt Dumba’s backhanded cross-crease fling caromed in off Pominville’s skate.
But then, the Wild’s momentum halted with a parade to the penalty box. Ten minutes of penalties in 11 minutes, highlighted by Ryan Suter’s double-minor for high-sticking Miller and Ryan Carter putting a puck in the stands for a 5-on-3.
“It’s not the perfect recipe when you’re coming from behind,” Yeo said.
The Wild killed the penalties, with Kyle Brodziak twice foiling Rangers shots without a stick and Marco Scandella sacrificing himself at the buzzer.
That gave the Wild a chance, and after a buzzing shift by the Charlie Coyle line, Vanek buried Dumba’s rebound past Henrik Lundqvist.
But after a TV timeout, Chris Kreider sped into the Wild zone and got past Dumba. Suter picked him up, but when Dumba went to the front of the net, he left Miller alone because Chris Stewart didn’t pick anybody up for Suter. Miller deflected Ryan McDonagh’s shot for the go-ahead goal.
“That’s a good team,” veteran Martin St. Louis said. “They fight back in the game, and they attack with four a lot. That’s a team that comes, especially when they’re down a goal.”