WASHINGTON – One week after experiencing the thrill of victory, the Wild is back to feeling the agony of defeat.
You can't even dream up the ways the Wild is losing games again.
Twenty-four hours after Michal Neuvirth's buzzer-beating, goal-line save left the Wild tormented in Philadelphia, the Wild left our nation's capital wondering what the heck it has to do to win a hockey game following a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
Interim coach John Torchetti, for the most part, was satisfied with the Wild's "team game" in both of the Wild's back-to-back contests, yet his team flew home with zero points to show for it.
"Just not enough," captain Mikko Koivu said. "I don't know. I thought we had a good game and played a good 60 minutes, but doesn't matter if we keep coming short."
In the latest defeat — the third in a row since starting 4-0 under Torchetti — the Wild suffered its first regulation loss in 22 games this season when leading after two periods.
After mostly the Ryan Carter-Koivu-Charlie Coyle line and defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon did a solid job bottling up Alex Ovechkin 5-on-5, the Caps' all-world sniper needed only one power play to tie the score. It was the second consecutive game in which the Wild was disciplined enough to surrender one power play and the second consecutive game the Wild's once-again leaky penalty kill was scored on.
"We've got to do a better job and we've got to get that save when we need it there," Torchetti said.
Then, one game after saying how critical it was to start at least getting to overtime to secure a point following tightly contested third periods, the Wild gave up the winning goal with 5:04 left.
Twelve seconds after Nino Niederreiter's careless turnover at the Capitals' blue line, Dmitry Orlov stickhandled around Niederreiter's attempt at stripping the puck in the right circle and backhanded the puck from a bad angle that tipped Spurgeon's stick and caromed in off Darcy Kuemper's pad.
"That's a tough time in a game for a goal like that," Kuemper said. "You open up just a couple inches and it finds a hole. No doubt the boys deserve better the way they battled all game."
The Wild had one of its best first periods in weeks. It outshot the NHL-leading Capitals 12-3, was first on every puck, drew three power plays and scored on Koivu's 13th goal in the final minute.
Forty-nine seconds into the second, Brooks Orpik's shot heading well wide deflected in off Marco Scandella's stick. But the Wild responded well when Suter headmanned a breakaway for Niederreiter that he finished for his 12th goal.
Kuemper committed robbery on Ovechkin later in the period to preserve the one-goal lead, but early in the third, Kuemper was called for intentionally dislodging the net. Kuemper was upset, though, because moments before, Scandella crashed into the cage and knocked it off the moorings.
"I leaned into the post and it was already off," Kuemper said. "[Referee Justin St. Pierre] must not have saw it already off and thought I pushed it, but there was no benefit for me to knock it off at that point. It wasn't like we were in trouble or anything."
Still, Torchetti said that in the future Kuemper should leave the net alone. If the Capitals would have scored with the net off, the goal would have been overturned by video review anyway, he said. Instead, Ovechkin, standing in his favorite spot in the left circle, one-timed Matt Niskanen's pass for his eighth 40-goal season.
The Wild returned to Minnesota for a two-game homestand four points behind Colorado. It has a nine-game winless streak at Xcel Energy Center since Dec. 28. And once again, it's a lost, demoralized, depressed team.
"We played a pretty even game. But it's the goals that matter, and they got the last one," Koivu said.