TAMPA, Fla. – Coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t forget about the late-game collapses that have haunted the Wild this season.
Instead, he catalogs them — tallying up the missed opportunities and how they’ve affected the team’s position in the NHL’s pecking order.
“I know exactly how many points we’ve lost,” he said. “I know where we could be [and] should be.”
That outlook got even more grim after a 4-2 loss to the Panthers on Friday, the ninth game this season the Wild hasn’t pocketed a victory despite being ahead in the third period or tied — a breakdown that has cost the team 15 points.
“It seems like a recurring theme, and unfortunately that’s not what playoff teams do,” winger Daniel Winnik said. “We have to buckle down in the third period. When we go in with the lead, it has to be one point or two points every single time.”
In the team’s latest demise, the Wild sported a 2-1 lead that flipped into a two-goal deficit amid a concentrated push by the Panthers that dwarfed the effort put forth by the Wild.
It looked like the team had cleaned up this issue in recent weeks; after getting rolled by the Kings in the third en route to a 5-2 loss on Dec. 5, the team persevered against the Ducks and Sharks and outlasted the Flames and Maple Leafs — assembling a four-game win streak.
But sticking with the team’s style for all three periods still seems like a work in progress.
“I think we just play passive,” Winnik said. “I think we just let them bring the game to us, and we don’t attack the same way we do in the first two periods. I think our forechecks aren’t as aggressive. Our breakouts aren’t as clean. We’ll high-flick pucks or won’t hunt them down. It just lets them gain more speed and keep coming at us.
The severity of the lower-body injury suffered by winger Nino Niederreiter on Friday remains unclear, but Niederreiter did not play Saturday against the Lightning.
“You don’t want anybody hurt,” Boudreau said. “But I gotta think that it’s not long term for him. It wasn’t like he broke his foot or anything again.”
Niederreiter left the loss following only four shifts in the first period, skating off gingerly while lifting his left leg as if to not put any weight on it after he was hit with a clearing attempt along the boards in the corner.
“I don’t know if the puck hit him or if his foot banged against the boards,” said Boudreau, who figured Niederreiter was bruised on the play.
This is the second injury that has sidelined Niederreiter this season. He missed six games in October because of a left high ankle sprain. Since his return, he had scored 10 goals and amassed 16 points.
The Wild subbed in winger Zack Mitchell against the Lightning, but if Niederreiter is out for an extended period of time, it’s likely the team would make a call-up from the American Hockey League — although it has survived before with just 12 forwards.
“That’s tough to replace,” winger Chris Stewart said of Niederreiter. “With injuries comes opportunities, so somebody has to step up.”
Goalie Alex Stalock started Saturday — the second back-to-back he’s tackled in consecutive weekends, after facing the Oilers and Blackhawks last Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The workload is busy by NHL standards, as most teams tend to split up back-to-backs. But it wasn’t a new challenge for Stalock, who use to rattle off games in the American Hockey League and at Minnesota Duluth.
“Sometimes you’re playing three-in-three at the American League level,” he said.
“Obviously with back-to-backs, it’s a test, but I think athletes at this level enjoy this type of stuff.”