ANAHEIEM, Calif. – The pressure was off, but the Wild didn’t play like it.
Players were sturdy in their own end, methodical through the middle and aggressive in the offensive zone.
It was an admirable effort, the type of primer the team had in mind after securing a playoff berth minutes after the clock struck midnight Tuesday.
But it didn’t last the entire game.
While the Wild faded in the third period, the Ducks picked up the pace as a playoff berth dangled in front of them — a fate they secured in a 3-1 comeback win Wednesday in front of 17,495 at Honda Center.
“The first two periods we were really good,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They got a fluky goal to tie it up I thought, but the third period they definitely outworked us. But it was a great test, and we talked about this is what playoff hockey is going to be — like they were in the third period, a desperate hockey club. And maybe it’s a cheap lesson learned hopefully.”
Despite the loss, the Wild sealed the third seed after the Blues lost earlier in the night and will face whoever finishes second, either the Jets or Predators, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Currently, the Jets sit second, but they’re only three points shy of the Central Division-leading Predators.
“Not really a great option for either of them,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “I think us as a group, we’ve shown we can play and beat anybody in the league, including both those teams.”
Before that eventual matchup, the Wild has to complete the regular season on this season-ending, three-game road trip through California that came down to a photo finish, with Ducks winger Ondrej Kase breaking a 1-1 tie with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the third period when he tucked in a rebound off a Josh Manson shot.
“It was a shot that I don’t think [Dubnyk] saw until the last second or the rebound wouldn’t have been in front of the net,” Boudreau said.
The goal was a culmination of a heavy push by the Ducks in the third, as that Blues loss also had repercussion for them: Win and they advanced. And that urgency seemed to be on display in the final 20 minutes, with Anaheim outshooting the Wild 11-4. One of those included an empty-netter by winger Andrew Cogliano with 2:13 to go.
A one-sided finish was a far cry from an even start that saw the Wild pull ahead 6:08 into the second on the power play. Defenseman Jonas Brodin set blue-line partner Matt Dumba up for a one-timer from inside the left faceoff circle that Dumba crushed over Anaheim goalie Ryan Miller’s glove for his 13th goal of the season and second on the power play.
Overall, the Wild ended up 1-for-3 with the man advantage, the Ducks 0-for-3.
Anaheim soon had a reply; a shot from winger Nick Ritchie bounced around the crease amid a sea of bodies before sliding five-hole on Dubnyk at 12:55.
The Wild challenged, wanting goaltender interference, but the good-goal call stood.
Dubnyk finished with 27 saves. Miller had 26 saves.
“It was a good start by us,” Dubnyk said. “They just upped the intensity a little bit in the third period because their playoff life is on the line. Other than that, it was a pretty good game by us.”