There was a sense of disappointment for what might have been.
What if the Wild didn’t put the Maple Leafs on the power play?
What if the puck didn’t bounce off defenseman Nick Seeler and into the net?
What if a second puck didn’t carom off Seeler and over the Wild’s goal line to stand up as the game-winner?
“We can’t waste games like that,” winger Jason Zucker said. “When we play that well, we have to win.”
But the overriding emotion that hovered over the Wild after its 5-3 loss to Toronto Saturday at Xcel Energy was encouragement since it finally debuted an effort worthy of busting out of slump – even if it sealed the team’s first three-game losing streak of the season.
“We’re happy with the way we played,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “We’re just not happy with the result. You’re never happy when you lose, but I think we’re trending the right way. I think we had the better of the chances. We just didn’t put them in. There’s two pretty weird ones. The next game we play they won’t happen.”
Perhaps it seems bizarre to dwell on the positives amid a plight like the one the Wild is experiencing, but it isn’t difficult to fathom the team earning a different fate.
From late in the first period through the final horn, it was the superior team – dictating play for lengthy stretches.
That pressure did culminate in tangible rewards, like goals from center Eric Staal, rookie Jordan Greenway and Zucker. But they were undermined by two fluky own goals, a seeing-eye deflection off the hand of a Maple Leaf and a blistering shot on the power play by superstar Auston Matthews.
Toronto also scored an empty-net goal.
“Two goals we scored in our own net, and one was an empty net,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I don’t think anybody in the world would have stopped Matthews shot in the first period, so [goalie Devan Dubnyk] made the saves he had to make.”
Seeler also isn’t to blame; despite getting hit with pucks that ended up flying behind Dubnyk, he was where he was supposed to be on both goals.
“Not his fault at all,” Spurgeon said. “I think he was pretty mad after the second one, but he was in the right position.”
Boudreau agreed that where Seeler was on the second goal was fine, and he said the staff would chat with him.
“He’s playing great,” Spurgeon said of Seeler. “He’s a big strong guy who makes plays. I think everyone in this room’s had things like that happen before, so we can all support him. He’s a great young kid, and he’s going to bounce back.”
Now may seem like a rough time to go on a road trip; the Wild returns to Western Canada next week for a three-game tour.
But a tough challenge Saturday helped spark progress from the Wild.
More adversity may be just what the group needs to officially end this drought.
“We just got to keep hammering away at it, and we’ll be there,” Dubnyk said. “We know the team we’ve got in here. We’ve showed it. It’s been a few losses in a row. But we’ve showed the good majority of that our ability and how good we are and we know that. So the most important thing is to keep doing that and trust that it’s going to go the right way for us.”