Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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With game in control, Wild collapses in regulation loss to Nashville

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 31, 2012 - 11:58 PM

The Wild should purchase bleach by the buckets this morning because the stain of this Valentine's Day horror show might be almost impossible to remove.
In an unprecedented meltdown that had coach Jacques Lemaire screaming mad in the postgame news conference, the Wild lost at home after leading by three goals for the first time in history as the Ottawa Senators stormed back for a 5-3 victory. The result could be catastrophic. ...

The above passage is part of the lead to my game story in the Star Tribune on Feb. 15, 2009.

Why do I bring this up? Because it happened again tonight, only this time in the third period, where a sure win turned into an instant 5-4 loss to Nashville.
“And to lose in regulation,” Dany Heatley said, shaking his head, “It’s tough.”
Again, why do I bring the 2009 loss up?
Because as I was hustling to the postgame locker room tonight after scrambling to rewrite what was a very winning game story into a very losing game story on the fly, I was thinking about that Ottawa meltdown and how I remember writing so much about that defeat in my end-of-the-year analysis that season.
Why? Because the Wild finished ninth in the West in 2008-09 – TWO points behind Anaheim. Obviously, in an 82-game season, you can’t blame missing the playoffs on one loss. But when you miss the playoffs by that margin and blow a three-goal lead at home, you can pretty much single out, well, a single game.
Tonight, coach Mike Yeo said, “What we have to do is make sure this is a story today and not a story at the end of the year.”
Some good quotes in a very empty, quiet locker room tonight, so read the game story. I’ll throw some extras up here. Josh Harding fell on the knife, and probably justifiably so. Blamed the loss on himself, calling it a “goalie’s worst nightmare.” He seemed to fall asleep at the switch, but so did most his teammates.
But the losing goal with 20.8 seconds left was unacceptable and he said as much. Clayton Stoner turnover, yes, but turnovers like that happen 50 times a game. It’s a game of turnovers if you think about it.
Mike Fisher, standing along the wall to the right of the circle, found the puck and just turned and fired by Matt Cullen. But this was no screen. Harding just lost it and the Wild was stunned. Loud, boisterous cheers turned into loud, ear-piercing jeering as players left the ice in a shocking defeat.
What happened? How did the Wild, holding a 4-2 lead with 3:21 left, find a way to lose?
“Didn’t seem like there was a sense of panic on the bench,” coach Mike Yeo said. “To be honest, it’s no excuse, but we looked completely out of gas. Still, it’s no excuse. They should be tired, too. They had the same amount of time off. But you see the way that our gap was, once we got up 4-1, I’ve never seen us laying on the ice as much we were trying to defend. In D-zone, we weren’t pressuring at all. The one-on-one battles we were winning earlier in the game, we couldn’t win one of them. Even the way we were executing, it leads me to believe we were really tired.”
I know it’s hard to buy that a team that was off for a week was tired, but when you’re lounging around, eating, drinking, relaxing, not thinking about hockey and then have to turn on the switch again, I think that’s what Yeo’s basically saying.
Whether or not his reasoning is sound or not, I have no clue. But I do agree with his synopsis.
I noticed it in the second and third period when certain players weren’t even trying to beat out icings or pressure in the defensive or offensive zones. It was just strange. And as Yeo mentioned, the gaps, well, the gaps were brutal. The Predators attacked with speed late in the period and were flying by guys or able to pull up and find late trailers.
Yeo said there was never a sense of panic on the bench, but the Wild certainly turned off the intensity. And their play in front of their net went from great to terrible.
Second and third goals were dirty, greasy goals because of a lack of physicality. I still think referee Don VanMassenhoven, who had a disallowed goal overturned by video review on Nashville's second goal (Brandon Yip) was in an inexcusably bad position on the Patric Hornqvist third goal and that Harding had it frozen. That puck was pinned under the right pad and players shouldn’t be allowed to pitchfork pucks into a net.
But Harding said he should have stood his ground.
The fourth goal, total and utter breakdown. Forecheck and the Wild give it up. Then Nashville comes with speed. Colin Wilson drops a puck for Martin Erat. Justin Falk reads it wrong and drops to block Erat’s shot. He didn’t shoot, instead sending it down low. Wilson passed by Nate Prosser to Fisher, who lost Cullen. Goal. Tie game with three minutes left 21 seconds after Hornqvist’s goal.
The Wild hadn’t lost in regulation when scoring four goals at home since a 6-5 decision to Colorado on Dec. 1, 2008.
“If this is a playoff series, you’ve got to forget it and drop it and go to the next game,” Heatley said, who had his first two-goal game with the Wild and three points for the second time in three games.
Easier said than done, however.
“It’s really hard right now,” Yeo said. “It feels like two different games. I guess the good news is when we were doing the right things, we saw the result. But oooooofffff, that’s a tough one.
“If we bounce back with a couple big wins, then we can still feel good about where we’re coming with our game. This one will be forgotten, and that has to be our goal.”
Just an amazing loss. 2-0 lead after 1, 11-5 shot advantage to start. Then Cal Clutterbuck scores 1:29 into the second, Kyle Brodziak makes it 4-1 16 seconds into the third. That should have secured the win. But the momentum died, and Pekka Rinne then became good again. The guy has won 10 straight – 9 in a row tonight when allowing two goals or less. And he did make several clutch saves – on Matt Cullen a minute before Hornqvist’s goal – if my memory is right – and on Devin Setoguchi in the second and Heatley’s hat trick try in the second.
“We’ve got to play a full 60 minutes,” Falk said. “But like, we played darn near 50 real good hockey tonight. After the break, we played a solid, simple game with our execution. We’ve got to rebound quickly, flush this as quick as possible, because despite that 10-minute lapse, things have been looking real good around here the last couple weeks now.”
It’s actually the second time the Preds have rallied from three goals down to win.
Said Fisher: “It was a wild one, there’s no question, but we’ve done that a few times this year and feeling confident being down in thirds, and just kind of chipped away. Once we get on a tear and momentum, we’re hard to stop.”
That’s it for me. Read the two Marek Zidlicky blogs below this if you didn’t yet and the Marek Zidlicky story in the paper. There’s also a Mikko Koivu-led notebook.
I’ll be on KFAN at 9 a.m. Kent Youngblood has practice. Barring news, I’ll talk to you Thursday from Denver.

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