It didn’t look like the Wild needed any extra help, not when the team has plowed through the bulk of its home schedule with an impressive proficiency, but the setup of its current homestand is certainly friendly.
The last-place Coyotes, Central Division basement-dwelling Blackhawks and rebuilding Rangers were the appetizers before a meaty entree featuring the Metropolitan-leading Capitals and in-the-mix Ducks capped off the five-course challenge.
But the momentum the Wild appeared poised to gain Thursday never arrived.
Instead, the team sputtered at the outset of this pivotal stretch by blowing a three-goal lead en route to a 4-3 overtime loss to the Coyotes in front of 18,816 at Xcel Energy Center that still managed to extend its point streak on home ice to a franchise-record 11 games — an afterthought in a lackluster effort that seemed out of place in a playoff race as urgent as the one the Wild is experiencing.
“It’s disappointing,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “That’s not who we are.”
Arizona completed its comeback 3 minutes, 55 seconds into the extra period when rookie Clayton Keller wired a shot by Dubnyk, but the Wild’s demise was put in motion much earlier.
The start was ho-hum, a far cry from the enthusiasm expected of a team returning home amid an 18-4-4 record in its own building.
And yet, the Wild still smuggled a one-goal lead out of the first period after center Eric Staal buried a Jared Spurgeon feed with 2:47 remaining in the period.
Not only was it Staal’s team-leading 24th goal, but his 49 points also pace the Wild.
That lead ballooned to two once center Matt Cullen capitalized on a breakaway at 5:54 of the second and then again at 9:59 on a blocker-side shot from defenseman Mike Reilly for his first goal of the season.
But the score was deceptive.
“I wasn’t comfortable,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We weren’t skating. They were beating us to every puck. They were outworking us. Even though we got three goals, it wasn’t a 3-0 game at the time.”
Eventually, the Coyotes were rewarded for their efforts.
Winger Nick Cousins buried a cross-crease feed from Grand Rapids’ Alex Goligoski only 1:31 after Reilly’s goal on Raanta, who ended up with 25 saves. And in the third, the Coyotes moved within 3-2 at 8:02 on a shot from defenseman Kevin Connauton before Cousins knotted it while Raanta was pulled for an extra attacker with 19 seconds to go.
“We had more than enough opportunity to clear the puck in the last minute,” said Dubnyk, who had 36 saves. “It comes back to bite you.”
The photo finish was a somewhat surprising reality between the NHL’s worst team and one of its most dominant on home ice, but the Coyotes’ speed and hustle deservedly put Arizona in contention for this game — which saw both teams go 0-for-1 on the power play.
And while its rally, which secured just the Coyotes’ 13th win of the season, was a morale boost for a group focused on growing for the future, it was also a wake-up call for a Wild bunch that isn’t guaranteed of escaping Arizona’s impending non-playoff fate despite being higher up in the standings — a grim reminder that will accompany the team through the rest of its homestand menu.
“It just shouldn’t happen,” winger Zach Parise said. “It can’t happen in the race that we’re in and that we’re going to be in for the rest of the year. It’s a tough point to lose.”