The Wild has occupied the third spot in the NHL’s Central Division for weeks, taking possession ever since it moved in after a victory Feb. 23.
And although the team will be idle until Saturday, the point it secured from a 4-3 overtime loss to the Kings on Monday night in front of an announced 19,081 at Xcel Energy Center extended its lease.
With 90 points, the Wild has a four-point edge over the Avalanche — the closest threat in the division. And since the Avalanche will play only twice during the Wild’s break, Colorado could tie Minnesota but can’t overtake it since the Wild would hold the first tiebreaker (fewer games played).
“Everything you can get right now is important,” winger Zach Parise said. “But unfortunately, we left one out there tonight. We had that opportunity to get that second one.”
Kings center Jeff Carter delivered the game-winner with 34 seconds remaining in the extra period after Los Angeles tied it 3-3 on a Dustin Brown deflection with 47 seconds to go in regulation.
“You’ve got to protect the front of the net,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s what we talked about in between the second and the third is protecting the middle of the ice. You had one defenseman going to one forward and leaving Brown, the most dangerous guy, alone in front of the net. It can’t be done.”
Before that, center Joel Eriksson Ek had moved the Wild ahead at 17:29 after sliding the puck around goalie Jonathan Quick, giving the team a 3-2 lead after it tripped into a two-goal hole.
“It’s always gonna feel like a waste when you have a lead with under a minute left,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who had 26 saves. “But you look at the whole game, it was a good game. It was a hard-fought, playoff-like game.”
Parise cut the deficit in half at 12:08 of the second, roofing the puck over Quick. And then, with 56 seconds remaining in the period, defenseman Ryan Suter sprung center Eric Staal for a partial breakaway and he wired the puck in for his 39th of the season.
“I felt like the guy pressuring me was going to kind of catch me before I got to the net to get a shot that I really wanted off,” Staal said. “So I got it off quick and put it where I wanted to.”
Staal’s 39 goals are the second most in a single season in team history, trailing just Marian Gaborik’s 42 in 2007-08. As for Suter, the assist was his 43rd — tying his single-season high and Wild franchise record by a defenseman.
That set up a crucial third period, but after Eriksson Ek’s goal on Quick, who racked up 24 stops, the Wild couldn’t hold off a desperate Kings team also vying for a playoff berth. The finish, however, was better than the Wild’s start.
With 1:13 left in the first, the Kings opened the scoring when winger Tanner Pearson one-timed the puck by Dubnyk. In the second, the Kings converted with the man advantage when Carter swatted in a puck from the back post at 6:21. Los Angeles finished 1-for-2 on the power play, while the Wild blanked on its lone chance.
“We were lacking a little bit of energy in the first period, and we had a good second period and a good enough third to give ourselves a chance to win,” Parise said. “Unfortunately, we only leave that one with one point.”