In their first chance to make their own statement on the ice, Wild players didn’t exactly back up coach Bruce Boudreau’s claim that this is a team that wants to make the playoffs and will.
Instead, it continued to make its climb tougher by collapsing yet again — this time in more dramatic fashion.
After squandering a three-goal lead, the team combusted 5-4 in overtime to the Devils Friday in front of an announced 19,041 at Xcel Energy Center on a puck-handling gaffe by goalie Devan Dubnyk that capped off New Jersey’s comeback with its fourth straight tally.
“We’re not blind,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We saw how they went in, but the other thing that bothers me is we do this all the time. We get them down and you don’t get that killer instinct and you stop playing and you try to defend all the time, and it’s a losing way to play.”
Devils winger Kyle Palmieri intercepted Dubnyk’s pass off the boards and after unsuccessfully trying to stuff the puck in as Dubnyk scrambled back to the crease, center Nico Hischier whacked in the rebound 3 minutes, 19 seconds into the extra period — a finish that had Wild players looking stunned on the bench.
“Once we get the lead, we’re afraid to finish it off,” Boudreau said.
Dubnyk, who posted 23 saves, had the puck on his stick after Zach Parise passed it back to him while the Wild tried to reload for another rush.
“I just got ready to move it up the ice and didn’t see anything available,” said Dubnyk, who’s been tagged for 10 goals in his past two starts. “I just thought it was a safe play to put it behind the net. Obviously, you don’t want to freeze it for no reason in overtime. Hindsight, I guess I should have. But that’s the way it goes.”
It was a catastrophic ending to a promising start that made it seem like the Wild was ready to capitalize on a team below it in the standings and completing a back-to-back.
But like it did in the 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, the Wild couldn’t take advantage.
Just 6:07 into the first period, defenseman Brad Hunt converted on the power play when his backhand banked off defenseman Ben Lovejoy and by goalie Keith Kinkaid for the Wild’s only goal with the man advantage in two tries.
Center Joel Eriksson Ek doubled the Wild’s lead on a wraparound into an empty net at 9:55 after accepting a Kinkaid turnover.
Devils winger Marcus Johansson bounced a puck in off Dubnyk’s pad and the post just 26 seconds into the second, but the Wild responded on a seeing-eye shot from defenseman Nick Seeler at 2:33 and a wind-up from center Mikael Granlund at 7:19.
That chased Kinkaid, who made 13 saves, from the game, and bringing in Cory Schneider was a turning point since he stopped all 15 shots he encountered while the Devils took over. Schneider wound up with his first victory in more than a year, ending an 0-17-4 stretch.
Defenseman Will Butcher pulled New Jersey within two when he buried a fortuitous carom into the slot with 1:50 left in the frame, and Palmieri scored on New Jersey’s third power play 8:16 into the third.
And with 2:45 to go in regulation, Lovejoy’s shot slid under Dubnyk — a stinger that foreshadowed another Wild demise that will have its coaches and team brass conferring Saturday about their goaltending situation while the team clings to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“They’re finding their way in,” Dubnyk said. “It’s frustrating. We probably deserved four points out of the last two games, and we only got one. Gotta find a way. I don’t know what else to say.”