PHILADELPHIA – “It’s a game of inches,” was uttered a half-dozen times in the Wild’s stunned, silent locker room, but Thursday night, it was a couple of millimeters that stood between the Wild earning a crucial point in the standings and having an opportunity for two.
Instead, Michal Neuvirth’s desperation stretch with a paddle — he should have been handcuffed and carted off to jail — robbed Charlie Coyle and the Wild during a 3-2 loss at Wells Fargo Center.
As the final seconds ticked off, the Wild forward stood 20 feet away and all he saw was an “open net.” Coyle fired … and 18,631 fans, 12 players, four officials, a bunch of coaches and front-office types and dozens of media members, ushers, peanut vendors and police officers couldn’t believe the red light wasn’t flashing.
“It’s unbelievable, just a disgusting save,” said Flyers forward Sam Gagner.
The league reviewed the video and ruled what the Wild dreaded: No goal, and the Wild was 2.6 seconds away from a second consecutive defeat after winning its first four games under interim coach John Torchetti.
“Especially with the timing, it’s got to be one of the best saves I’ve ever made,” Neuvirth said.
“That’s a heck of a save,” Coyle said. “That half-inch would have been a huge point.”
The Wild remained four points behind eighth-place Colorado with two games in hand. By winning in Chicago, seventh-place Nashville expanded its lead to seven points over the Wild with one more game played.
But one reason why the Wild is not gaining ground is the Avalanche and Predators keep forcing overtime. The Avalanche won in a shootout Wednesday night, its third overtime this month. The Predators have an eight-game point streak with four going past regulation.
That miraculous save by Neuvirth was damaging to the Wild.
“At this time of the year, there’s a ton of three-point games,” Wild center Jarret Stoll said. “Teams are getting points. They’re finding a way to get one point or maybe pulling out two points here or there. We’re not finding a way to do that right now. We’ve got to find a way pretty quick here.”
The Wild battled back twice from one-goal deficits on second-period goals by Thomas Vanek and Mikael Granlund, who was also robbed by Neuvirth on a third-period power play after Granlund delayed long enough for his shot to be deflected by defenseman Andrew MacDonald.
But early in the third, the Wild saw that tie turn into a deficit when Stoll and Ryan Suter lost a board battle behind the net. As Stoll fished for his fallen stick, the puck skipped out front and a diving Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored the eventual winner 3:21 into the period. The Flyers’ fourth line did in the Wild’s fourth line and Suter and Jared Spurgeon, who were on the ice for all three Philadelphia goals.
Taking his new team on the road for the second time since arriving from Iowa to help save the Wild’s season, Torchetti showed no woe-is-me attitude without injured Zach Parise and Jason Zucker.
“You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and don’t worry about what you don’t have,” Torchetti said Thursday before a game that had minor leaguer Jordan Schroeder on the Wild’s first line and fourth-line depth player Chris Porter on the second line.
But the Wild is now at a critical juncture without key top-six forwards with the trade deadline approaching Monday.
Coyle was so close to getting at least a much-needed point Thursday.
“Close,” Vanek said. “Close is not good enough for us right now. It’s a tough one, but we’ve got to get over it quick because [Friday] we have the best team in the league and we need points.”