The old saying goes, “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” and the Wild will have to do its share of that this final month of the season.
Friday the 13th began a hellacious schedule for the Wild initiated by three consecutive games against potential first-round playoff opponents that were all coincidentally tied for the most points in the Western Conference.
“This is where you make your money,” coach Mike Yeo said earlier Friday.
The treacherous trifecta that continues Saturday in St. Louis and Tuesday in Nashville started in defeat Friday night — a familiar-feeling 2-1 home loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks have won six consecutive one-goal games at Xcel Energy Center, and it always seems to come down to one play dooming the Wild. The latest was Matt Dumba turning the puck over en route to Anaheim’s go-ahead goal 2 minutes, 14 seconds after Zach Parise tied the score in the second period.
“I think that’s hockey this time of year,” coach Mike Yeo said of the tight, tense games. “There’s a fine line and every game’s going to be tight. Teams are all playing for something. We’re pretty close to playoff hockey right now, and that’s what you’re facing.”
Goalie John Gibson, sharp all night and especially in the final minute as the desperate Wild pressured, made 32 saves as the Ducks ended a three-game losing streak. The Wild attempted 57 shots to the Ducks’ 41, but 15 of the Wild’s missed the net and nine were blocked.
Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart, particularly, were just off the mark several times and Jared Spurgeon swung and missed on a point-blank rebound stab late.
“We just couldn’t finish,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We had a lot of looks there at the end. Pucks were bouncing off bodies and going just wide.”
The Wild has lost three of its past five home games and hasn’t beaten Anaheim at home since Feb. 18, 2011. The Wild remained two points up on idle Los Angeles for the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference and three points up on idle ninth-place Winnipeg.
Minnesota, 10-1-2 in its past 13 on the road, plays Saturday night in St. Louis, where it hasn’t won in regulation since Oct. 2007. The Wild hasn’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 19-20.
“[Saturday] night’s a big game for us. At this stage we can’t afford to lose two games in a row,” Suter said.
It was a buzzkill first period for the Wild, which held Anaheim without a shot for a span of 7:45 and outshot the Ducks 16-7. But nine seconds after a Wild power play ended and with 46.6 seconds left in the period, Francois Beauchemin beat Devyn Dubnyk off a Jakob Silfverberg drop pass through a screen.
But in the second, with the Wild killing a penalty, Dubnyk sold a roughing penalty to Corey Perry and the Wild got an abbreviated power play. Thomas Vanek threw a puck on net and Parise buried the rebound for his 27th goal.
Not long after though, Dumba, so good lately, had a rookie moment during a 4-on-4. He skated in front of his net and tried a backhand pass through the slot. Ryan Kesler deflected it to Simon Despres, and he fired it on net for a Silfverberg tip and 2-1 Ducks lead.
“Just a bad play by me,” Dumba said. “I got a little caught in headlights there. … I can’t do that, and it cost us.”
Yeo came to Dumba’s defense, saying, “That’s a mistake I’ve seen veteran players make, too. To expect him to be perfect is completely unfair. He doesn’t have to try to make up for that mistake now. He’s got enough in the bank that he should be able to just flush that one.”
The NHL’s 28th-ranked power play had two more chances to tie the game. It failed twice and is now 3-for-33 the past 14 games.
“We’ve got to be better,” Suter said. “It’s a power play, penalty kill game. We’ve got to be able to get a couple.”