ST. LOUIS – Six weeks ago, the Wild was gearing up for a deep Stanley Cup run.
But late Sunday afternoon, in a quickly emptying locker room full of sweaty, stunned faces, Eric Staal voiced what everybody in the organization and thousands of fans who invested their hearts and money into what’s quickly becoming a lost season had to be thinking.
“After the type of year we had, this is definitely hard to imagine right now,” Staal said. “We’ve got to find a way to win one.”
After a franchise-record 106 points, the Wild is three games into this postseason and has yet to figure out how to win a game against the St. Louis Blues or light up their stingy goalie.
Three games that could have gone either way, yet it’s the Wild that lost 3-1 Sunday afternoon to find itself in a colossal 3-0 cavity.
Only four of 184 teams in NHL history (2.2 percent) have completed a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit. The Wild has trailed a series 3-0 three previous times. Twice, it was swept, once it extended to five games before losing. The Wild returned to Minnesota afterward to lick its wounds for a few days before returning to St. Louis for a prayer of extending its season Wednesday.
“Well, it is possible. It’s been done,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It doesn’t happen very often. When you have three games that were as close as ours, it doesn’t take a lot to turn it over.”
Blues goalie Jake Allen, who made 51 saves in Game 1, made an additional 40 stops Sunday, including 19 in the third period. He has a .974 save percentage in the series and has allowed three goals in three games.
At least Sunday, the Wild finally scored its first 5-on-5 goal in almost 10 periods. But given four chances to tie the score, the Wild’s power play failed each time.
“We couldn’t get in the zone. Skating up and down the ice, I think, the whole power play,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, a big culprit turning pucks over. “We had some looks, but for the most part we couldn’t get set up.”
Fueled by the energy from their home crowd of 19,334, the Blues were more physical than they were in the first two games. The Wild had to fight for every inch and withstand a punishing array of checks. The Blues also blocked 23 shots.
Devan Dubnyk gave up an early 40-foot goal off a Colton Parayko wrister that ramped up Suter’s blade, and once again the Wild was chasing in a series in which it has yet to have a lead.
After back-to-back Wild power plays at least turned the momentum in the second period, Charlie Coyle tied the score by backhanding Zach Parise’s rebound past Allen after a rare occasion when the Wild caught the Blues sleeping as Suter headmanned the puck quickly through the neutral zone.
But only 1:13 later, Ryan White was called for high-sticking. Replays showed it actually was Martin Hanzal when Jaden Schwartz skated into Hanzal’s follow-through of a faceoff.
High sticks are permitted when there’s accidental contact “on the opposing center who is bent over” during faceoffs. Schwartz isn’t a center, although a league official indicated to the Star Tribune the referees thought White clipped Schwartz.
Nevertheless, on the ensuing power play, Schwartz beat Marco Scandella to the right post and buried Alex Steen’s wraparound.
So, the score was tied at 1-1 for 2:20. Steen later added an empty-netter.
“All three games have been this way,” Dubnyk said. “It’s a bounce one way or another, and it’s pretty crazy to be in this situation with three games like that. All we can do is keep pushing the way we’re pushing.”
After 117 shots in the series and three goals, the Wild cannot believe it’s in this spot.
“The one thing I’m not going to criticize is our effort,” Boudreau said. “These guys are trying right to the end; they’re trying as bad as everybody. They want to bring it home to Minnesota but right now, it’s just not working.”
The Wild better find answers quickly.
“I don’t know what it is — well, it’s obvious that it’s offense,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We can’t find any holes there right now. We have to figure that out soon.”