Wild center John Madden is heading down the home stretch of his 11th full NHL season. Each of the past 10 ended with the team he was playing for in the playoffs. Three times, those seasons ended with Stanley Cup championships, including last season in Chicago.
No surprise, then, that Madden called his current situation among the most frustrating of his career after Friday's practice at St. Thomas Academy.
"I'm dealing with it the best I can," Madden said. "The expectations are there. We have the team to get in. We just shoot ourselves in the foot here and there. We have to deal with the ups and downs of a hockey game better and we'll be better off."
The Wild is coming off a critical four-game road losing streak that has left the team in 11th place in the Western Conference, six points out of eighth entering Friday's games. That means the Wild will have to win an extraordinary number of the 11 games it has left, probably as many as nine. Saturday's game with Columbus -- the first of back-to-back home games -- is the first of a critical stretch in which the Wild will play four in a row and six of seven at home through the beginning of April. But the team faces a nearly impossible uphill struggle, which explains Madden's frustration.
"We have beaten a lot of good hockey teams," he said. "But we've sputtered. It's frustration. I'm not the only one. I'm sure others feel the same way. We have to find a way. We played a decent game [Thursday] in San Jose despite being outshot. Two of their goals, one went off my stick, one went off [Brent] Burns. That is frustrating, especially when [goalie Niklas Backstrom] played so well."
Many, if not most, of the Wild's upcoming games are winnable. Columbus is struggling. After Sunday's game with Montreal, the Wild plays host to Toronto, then has a home-and-home with St. Louis.
Fellow veteran Matt Cullen agreed there is frustration but said the team couldn't yield to it. "The team that handles it the best is the team that will make it," he said. "You can't let the frustration get in, or it will eat you up."
Friday's practice was up-tempo but relatively short. Missing were wingers Martin Havlat and Guillaume Latendresse and defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Cam Barker. Coach Todd Richards was among the first to leave the ice, and he left the arena without talking with the media. But assistant coach Dave Barr said there would not be any lineup changes from Thursday, meaning Havlat was given the day off, while Latendresse (lower body), Zidlicky (hamstring) and Barker (lower back) would miss Saturday's game.
The lineup might not change, but the results need to for the Wild to keep its playoff hopes alive.
"You have to fight against looking ahead," Cullen said. "You have to look at what is right in front of you. You look ahead and you get in big trouble.''
Looking back probably wouldn't help either. The Wild was shut out in the first two games of the road trip, then scored a total of four goals in the final two. A team so good when scoring first has been digging holes it can't climb out of.
"It's definitely tough when you're so close and you just can't find that one thing that will put you over the edge," winger Eric Nystrom said. "But you have to find a way to channel that, use that as energy. ... There is a fair bit of frustration, but it's only because guys want to do so well. When things don't go your way, you feel like maybe you're not helping the team."
• Wild 2010 first-round draft pick Mikael Granlund might have sustained another concussion in a Finnish League playoff game Friday. The HIFK star, who missed much of the first half of the season because of a concussion, was cross-checked in the face, then into the crossbar, by Jokerit captain and former NHL player Ossi Vaananen. Granlund left the game, tried to return and then finally had to leave the game for good. The Wild checked into Granlund's condition. The injury is not expected to be serious, and Granlund is listed as day-to-day.